Two strangers forged a unique friendship in the hallways of a local hospital, with the duo forming a mobile support group as they battled the same form of leukemia.
Last June, Zach Jenkins of Bloomington had one of the worst moments of his life.
“I remember walking into the doctor’s office a year ago, sitting down and him saying ‘you have leukemia,’” he said.
Jenkins came to Chicago’s Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern Medicine for treatment of his illness, and it was there that Eric McElroy knocked on his door.
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“He just said ‘we’re gonna walk every single day,’ and I was like ‘okay.’ I didn’t ever expect to see him again,” he recalled.
Needless to say, McElroy meant it. The 39-year-old father of three from suburban Manteno was diagnosed with leukemia six years ago.
“My first year of being diagnosed, I was super depressed,” he said. “I just didn’t want him to go through the same thing I did because the mental, the physical (challenges) are not fun. But mentally, you can make it worse.”
The two started walking the halls at Lurie, sometimes for hours.
“We were really able to bond, and just talk about what we’re going through and to get through it,” Jenkins said.
After a while, they started to expand their mobile walking support group.
“What we did was we did knock on other people’s doors and ask them to come out and walk, and a lot did,” McElroy said.
Over three different hospital stays, sometimes for weeks at a time, they walked, including during their stem cell transplants.
McElroy says that he once walked 20 miles around the hospital floors, and the group was so inspiring, the nurses even bought lap counters for patients.
“He really helped me get through it,” Jenkins said. “He’s like ‘we’re gonna get through it together. Day by day. Step by step.’”
Now, the duo is getting together again this weekend to participate in the Cancer Survivors’ Celebration Walk and 5K race, and they have every reason in the world to celebrate.
Jenkins says that doctors have proclaimed him cancer-free, and McElroy is in remission.
“We were good for each other,” McElroy said.