LAKEWOOD – Meagan Sunde realizes that, when it comes down to it, her current bout with breast cancer – the second she’s faced in four years and the third run-in with cancer of her life – is ultimately hers and hers alone.
Nobody can go through radiation for her.
But that doesn’t make the support for Sunde, 44, any less meaningful.
“They can’t fight cancer for me,” Sunde said. “But they can walk beside me for it.”
That’s exactly what community members will do Aug. 26. Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria of Lakewood is celebrating five years in business with the Deep Dish Dash, a 5k run/walk to benefit the breast care fund at the Family Health Partnership Clinic.
It’s a cause that’s close to the restaurant. In addition to Sunde, two other Lakewood Malnati’s employees have faced and overcome breast cancer.
Sasha Wright, general manager of Malnati’s in Lakewood, said the event is a chance to honor three employees who’ve meant a lot to the restaurant.
“Just letting them know that we’re here for them always,” Wright said. “They are part of our family. Malnati’s is a family. ... And when they go through something, we go through it, too.”
The three women have depended on each other for support.
Polly Gorski, 46, said talking things through with Sunde and Linda Lunt, who fought breast cancer 18 years ago, made a big difference.
“Obviously, the initial shock of hearing that diagnosis kind of takes the wind out of anybody’s sail,” Gorski said. “But I would say honestly out of all of it, I’ve gone to them for so much information.”
Gorski was diagnosed with breast cancer in February and, because doctors found it early, did not undergo chemotherapy.
Instead, she went through 33 treatments of radiation, concluding in early July.
“My whole family has been there for me at Malnati’s,” Gorski said. “And I call them a family because they really are a family. They’ve been great.”
Lunt said she’s taken on a “cheerleader” role for Gorski, Sunde and others who are going through breast cancer.
“I think the most important part of being with someone who’s going through this is just being really positive,” Lunt said. “When you hear cancer, everyone’s always afraid. You just have to go slow and take it one step at a time.”
Lunt’s cancer had gotten to stage three, and she credits the care she received from her doctor for saving her life.
Money raised from the 5k will go toward providing uninsured women in McHenry County with breast exams, mammograms and breast health education. Lunt said she wants all women to have access to the same great care she received nearly 20 years ago.
“No one should have to worry about that,” she said. “You have enough on your plate when you’re sick.”
So far, about 250 people have signed up for the run/walk, which will launch from Malnati’s parking lot at 8515 Redtail Drive, Lakewood.
Wright has set a goal of about 500 participants. She said she’s happy to show her appreciation for three women who’ve done a lot for Malnati’s through the years.
And the event will also offer a chance to show support for Sunde, who Wright said is constantly thinking of others before herself, even in sickness.
“When she first started here, she had never served before and she was awful, but her personality is so sincere and she wants to take care of people,” Wright said. “And then she got really good and developed this amazing following with our customers. So when she was first diagnosed a couple years ago, her customers were really upset.”
Sunde is currently undergoing daily radiation treatments about an hour away, and many of her Malnati’s co-workers are taking turns driving her.
She’ll be walking along with them at the Deep Dish Dash.
“It’s very profound that Lou Malnati’s has always, since the very beginning, supported me with dinners, with flowers, with love, with phone calls,” Sunde said. “And now that I’m facing my second battle and we’re coming up on this five-year anniversary ... this is so much bigger than me.”