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A reason to celebrate: North Aurora boy marks freedom from leukemia

NORTH AURORA – Eleven-year-old Max Williams likes to spend his free time playing basketball or with his remote control helicopters. In other words, he enjoys acting like a kid.

Max was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was 3 years old. After 3½ years of chemotherapy and five years of follow-up, he is considered cured.

To mark the milestone, a blood drive for Lifesource will be from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 17 at Funway Ultimate Entertainment Center, 1335 S. River St., Batavia. During his treatment, Max received more than 16 blood and platelet transfusions.

“It’s something we wanted to do to give back to Lifesource and to bring awareness to the community,” said his mother, Sara Williams.

Those who plan to donate blood that day should call Lifesource at 877-543-3768. To register online at, use reference group code PHIL.

Max, a student at Immanuel Lutheran School in Batavia, doesn’t remember receiving chemotherapy.

“I remember some of the doctors coming in to play basketball with us,” he said.

Max doesn’t hesitate when asked about the best part of not having leukemia.

“I’m not sick,” he said.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a cancer of the white blood cells, which normally fight infections in the body. The disease is the most common cancer in children, representing 23 percent of cancer diagnoses among children younger than 15, according to the National Cancer Institute. It occurs in about one of every 29,000 children in the United States each year.

In the 1960s, fewer than 5 percent of children with the disease survived for more than five years. Today, more than 85 percent of those children live five years or more.

“This is an opportunity for us to start a new chapter,” said Max’s father, Phil Williams. “When you are going through it, you never know what’s going to happen.”

The family is treating the Feb. 17 blood drive as a celebration, which is why it is at Funway.

“It’s someplace everybody knows, and it’s fun and happy,” Sara Williams said.

In conjunction with the blood drive, there will be a fundraiser for the Wilmette-based Leukemia Research Foundation. The Williamses are friends of Diana and Miguel Orjuela of Batavia, whose 2½-year-old son, Nicholas, died of leukemia in October 2003.

The couple have created a chapter called “Little Lefty” – Nicholas was left-handed – to raise money for Leukemia Research Foundation.

“Any time we can help to raise funds and awareness is a plus,” said Diana Orjuela, Nicholas’ mother, who also is president of the Leukemia Research Foundation’s executive committee.

The Leukemia Research Foundation provides research grants to scientists around the world and conducts educational and support programs for patients, family members, caregivers and medical professionals.

“I want to make sure people know about the foundation,” Orjuela said.

Max has a message to children diagnosed with leukemia and their families.

“I would say, ‘Don’t worry. I made it through,’ ” Max said.

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