Lester: Huntley High juniors bond over shared cancer fight

Imagine fighting cancer. At 16. That's the experience of Julia Peluso and Jessica Diaz, two Huntley High School juniors for whom other students are throwing a "Friends Don't Let Friends Fight Cancer Alone" benefit on Friday.

Peluso, a cheerleader and volunteer middle-school cheer coach, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer over the summer, news that was like "being hit in the chest with a rock," she said. She had surgery in July and again in December.

Diaz was walking up stairs in 2014 when she broke her femur, a strange occurrence doctors quickly realized was due to bone cancer. Surgeons removed her leg and she received a prosthesis and returned to school, where she came to love attending football games and being part of the student body.

In August, doctors found cancer in her lung. She's been traveling to Milwaukee once a month to take part in a clinical trial, bringing her schoolwork with her. Treatments are exhausting, she says, but "you can't focus on being tired ... you have to focus on being a regular teenager."

Bonding experience

While the girls didn't know one another before news of the benefit, Peluso says their experiences create a bond.

"I feel Jessica on so many levels," she said. "I'm really excited to support her, because she's gone through so much in the past few years."

Diaz, who spoke with me a few hours after returning from her latest treatment in Milwaukee, says the benefit is a bright spot in a sea of worries for her and her family. "It helps everything, with my family, with daily life, for stuff like that. ... I'm excited to see how many people will turn out."

Tickets to Friday's benefit, which starts at 6:30 p.m. at Huntley High School, are $20. To purchase or contribute, email

Who's running against Roskam?

You read in the Daily Herald that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hopes to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam by making his 6th District race one of its 20 top priorities nationwide in 2018.

Just who is planning to run against him? I asked longtime DuPage County Democratic Chair Bob Peickert, who said there's no name yet.

Roskam and I spoke by phone this week, and he says he believes the committee is focused on defeating Republicans in districts like the 6th where Hillary Clinton performed strongly in November. Roskam was in the spotlight last month when he wouldn't say how he voted on a move to declaw the Office of Congressional Ethics. The changes were was scrapped after an outcry.

On a tear

You read in this column that the Morton Grove-based MCC Academy girls' basketball team is making history with players being the first to wear hijabs on the court during the Illinois Elementary School Association's regional finals game late last year.

Coach Kadir Oz, a Schaumburg native, tells me the boys team is also on a tear, "steam rolling through" their season with a record of 8-1 in conference play with three regular season games remaining before the playoffs on Feb. 10. Oz, a Schaumburg native, says the 14-member boys varsity team has been fighting through adversity with a number of injuries, but hasn't stopped working toward the goal of reaching the championship.

Promotion for Wheeler

A suburban state lawmaker has been named to co-chair of the committee that implements laws across state agencies.

Republican state Rep. Keith Wheeler of North Aurora joined the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules in August, with House Republican Leader Jim Durkin praising his "sound judgment, keen analytical skills and team building." The job does not come with a stipend.

Other suburban members include House Assistant Majority Leader Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, and state Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat.

Centennial marked

The village of Mount Prospect celebrated its centennial last Friday by re-enacting the Feb. 3, 1917, signing of its articles of incorporation and having a fireworks show at village hall, but the party isn't over.

Watch for more events this year, such as a Mount Prospect Trivia Night Feb. 24 and a fire-hydrant-painting contest sponsored by the centennial commission. See

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Elgin High teacher strategizing should Trump restrict climate change research

Saved by entry to U.S. as refugee, suburban man speaks out against ban

Rauner will urge Trump administration against full Obamacare repeal

National Democratic arm says unseating Roskam a 2018 priority

Report: Federal funds meant for educating poor kids go to pay down state pension debt

  Julia Peluso helps coach seventh- and eighth-graders in a competitive cheer class, including Allycea Van Dine, 12, left, of Carpentersville, and Danielle Reyes, 12, right, of Huntley. Patrick Kunzer/
Jessica Diaz, a Huntley High School junior, gives a thumbs-up during a recent treatment session in Milwaukee. Diaz, 16, is fighting cancer for the second time. Photo Courtesy Diaz Family
MCC Academy's varsity boys basketball team is following the same path of success this season as its history-making girls team, the only ones in the Illinois Elementary School Association's history to wear hijabs on the court. Photo Courtesy MCC Academy
  Peter J. Roskam Laura Stoecker/
  Keith Wheeler Scott Sanders/
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