Dust swarms and hammers echo in a musty former tax office under renovation but Jill Swanson Peltier is envisioning a bright room with a crackling fire and comfy chairs where cancer survivors find solace.
Saturday marked an onslaught of demolition work at the future home for Lemons of Love in Mount Prospect as Peltier, the group's founder was joined by a team of volunteers.
This fall she plans to open a cancer support center in a transformed building.
"We'll have support groups for people going through chemo, for survivors, and for caregivers," Peltier said. "We'll have a salon room for people to do private head shavings."
Other features will include a library and space for volunteers to assemble and create items for Lemons of Love's signature care packages for people undergoing chemotherapy.
More than 4,200 hand-stitched bags containing comforts such as ginger tea for nausea, "superhero" socks, and lemon drops to remove the taste of chemotherapy have been delivered since Peltier started the charity after being treated for colon cancer in 2014.
Now in remission, she recalls "the first thing that goes is your taste buds. Some one gave me lemon drops and it helps your taste buds come back to life; you can taste a cheeseburger again."
Lemons of Love helpers often surprise patients in oncology waiting rooms across the suburbs by handing out the goody bags.
"People say it brings a bright spot to their yucky chemo day," she said. "Positivity has a lot to do with healing."
As she gives a tour, Peltier points out features -- "that's the board room" -- and members of the wrecking crew, which includes a lawyer, Mount Prospect firefighters and kids.
"It's hard work but rewarding," Swanson's Mount Prospect neighbor Phil Maher said.
"A couple of my friends have had cancer," Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Loomis said, taking a breather from knocking out ceiling tiles. "That's why we're here."
The building at 406 Central Road is more than 100 years old, said Peltier, who operates Lemons of Love out of her Des Plaines motor sports business. They've discovered faulty wiring, mice and to her delight -- a vintage stone fireplace covered by wall board.
"I was the one who took a hammer and found that fireplace over there," Peltier said. "A year from now, this room will be white and bright with chairs … a comforting, welcoming place for people to come."
To learn more about Lemons of Love, go to lemonsoflove.org.