SOUTH SHORE — Though Kourtney Lewis is battling breast cancer for a second time in the midst of a global pandemic, the mother, daughter and wife still has plenty to celebrate — and plenty of people to celebrate with.
Dozens came out for a socially distanced celebration of Lewis’ 33rd birthday Saturday. Family members, Chicago firefighters and neighbors who love her baking talents lined the streets and sidewalks to wish her a happy birthday from afar.
“Thirty-three has been the best birthday so far, I can say. It definitely has,” Lewis said from her front porch. “My mother … put this all together. I had no idea.”
The celebration was organized by Lewis’ mom, Paula Lee-Rosario. The South Shore native credited Lewis’ husband, Ronnie, who filmed the entire celebration, for his love and care toward her daughter.
“I felt the same way about my son-in-law as I did my husband,” Lee-Rosario said. “He’s got three kids; they’ve blended together and they did the damn thing. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Lewis is a Spanish teacher at Du Bois Elementary in Riverdale, but she’s unable to teach as she undergoes chemotherapy.
She’s also an avid baker whose “Blend Family Recipes” have been sold at Chef Sara’s Cafe, 7201 S. Exchange Ave. She was working on opening her own bakery before the cancer returned, according to Lee-Rosario.
“She bakes cakes and cheesecakes and sells them in the neighborhood,” Lee-Rosario said. “The people love her for it.”
After Lewis was first diagnosed with breast cancer at 21, doctors said she would never have a child. But a few years later, she and Ronnie had a son, Reason, who’s now seven years old and a caretaker for his mother.
When the cancer returned, Lee-Rosario thought Reason would want to move in with her — the recovery process is “a lot for a child to see,” she said. Reason chose to stay with his mother.
“My baby, she’s so sick, but she gets up every day. She does her yoga and meditation and [Reason] does it with her,” Lee-Rosario said. “When he found out about [his mom’s illness], he said, ‘Now I’ve got to stay home, because I’ve gotta make my mommy well.’ “
Lewis’ “immune system is gone,” her mother said, so she called on everyone to follow social distancing guidelines and the stay at home order to protect her and others at risk.
“If the people of Chicago would just stay in the house, that’s all I want,” Lee-Rosario said. “I want us to live.”
With the world on lockdown, Lewis wasn’t expecting much of a celebration, she told attendees and news crews Saturday. As she continues the grueling chemotherapy process, she takes solace in shows of support and love like her surprise birthday celebration.
“It’s nice to know I’m not alone in the house, I’m not alone going through something that everyone else is trying to go through as well,” Lewis said. “We’ll get through this together.”
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