Ill. officers rally around cop with cancer


The Chicago Tribune

WAUCONDA, Ill. — Compared with the decision that faced Wauconda Police Officer Eric Schultz — whether to have his foot amputated to fight cancer — the one facing his co-workers was simple.

Twenty-two Wauconda police officers are among 39 men -- including Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran and Wauconda Police Chief Tony Jacobson, Deputy Chief Patrick Yost and Mayor Salvatore Saccomanno -- who pledged to shave their heads Saturday to show solidarity with the youngest member of the force and raise money to fight childhood cancer.

The shaving will begin at 11 a.m. at the Wauconda Chamber of Commerce EXPO at Wauconda High School, 555 N. Main St. It is organized through the St. Baldrick's Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises money for childhood cancer research. Those who volunteer to be shorn can collect pledges or donations.

"I have a pretty good idea of what I am going to look like bald because I had to shave my head when I was in the service," said Yost, who has let his hair grow long in anticipation of the event. "I won't say it is my best look, but what the heck, it grows back."

Schultz, 23, lost his hair during chemotherapy.

"I think it is awesome for someone to shave their hair off for me and for this great cause," Schultz said. "I think it is a testament to the incredible bond we have in law enforcement."

The Wauconda native, who lives in McHenry, had been on the force just shy of a year in November when osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, was diagnosed in him.

Doctors told Schultz he would need surgery to remove a tumor in his right heel. He was given the option to have only his heel removed, which would render him handicapped without guaranteeing that all of the cancer would be removed. And he wouldn't have been able to go back to his job.

"I am an athlete and I would not have been able to walk, run, ski, or do any of the other things I like to do," Schultz said.

He opted to have his foot amputated above the ankle Feb. 14, which completely removed the tumor, he said. Soon he will be fitted for a prosthetic limb and, after three to six months of physical therapy, should be able to walk, play sports and go back to the job of his childhood dreams.

Schultz said that when co-workers found out about his diagnosis, many immediately gave him their vacation, sick and personal days.

"They didn't want me to have to worry about losing my house while I was going through this," he said. "They have been behind me 100 percent."

Yost said the department, like many police forces, is a tight-knit group. "Not only do you spend a lot of time together, but you rely on these people to protect you," he said.

Making Schultz feel better includes making sure he isn't treated any differently, Yost said.

"There is still a lot of ribbing that goes on," he said. "We want him to understand that he still has a place with us."

Schultz said humor has helped him get through his ordeal. He hopes to get an especially big laugh when he sees his friends go bald. He may even take his chief and deputy chief up on their offers to let him shave them.

Curran, who is attending the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy at the College of DuPage, is planning to shave his head along with 11 classmates.

"I am very nervous because I know I am going to look terrible," the sheriff said. "I think my greatest sin is pride and if this doesn't humble me I don't know what will. But when I think about kids with cancer ... it makes my own vanity seem silly."

Schultz will be at least the second Wauconda officer with a prosthetic limb. The right foot of John Kuester Jr., who was chief of police from 1946 to 1968, was amputated after an injury during World War II.

Helping Schultz through his illness and recovery are his parents, Rick and Cindy, his brother, Steve, and his girlfriend of six years, Crystal Aguilar.

Schultz's prognosis is good and doctors have told him it is unlikely his cancer will recur. While he knows that his recovery will take a lot of work, Schultz said the hardest part is waiting for things to return to normal.

"After three months of being sick, I am tired of being around the house," he said.

For more information about Saturday's event, go to www.stbaldricks.org.

Wauconda and the Wauconda Police Department also have set up a fund to help defray Schultz's medical costs. Donations may be sent to the Eric Schultz Benefit Foundation, Fifth Third Bank, 486 W. Liberty St., Wauconda 60084.

Copyright 2008 Chicago Tribune
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