Boys tossed around a baseball in the front yard at Theofanis Yianas' house in Palatine. Three little girls ran a lemonade stand in his driveway and other children were drawing brightly colored pictures with chalk.
But this was no ordinary play date. This was a special weekend gathering of about 200 people — friends and family from church, school and Theo's Little League baseball team, the Angels. All were showing love and support for the 6-year-old who is fighting for his life.
In May, Theo, who loves playing baseball and basketball and studying science, was diagnosed with high-risk stage 4 neuroblastoma. Intensive chemotherapy caused him to start losing his hair, so his parents recently shaved it all off. When his mom, Eleni, 40, realized how badly the bald head made her son feel, friends and family decided they would help by shaving their own heads.
"I felt sorry for Theofanis," said Noah Tunney, 12, who along with his brother, Ben, 8, had all his hair shaved at Saturday's event. "I just wanted to make him feel like he was not alone."
In all, 30 boys and men, ages 1 to 51, including Theo's dad, Dean, shaved their heads. Nine little girls chopped off their long locks to donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, a charity that makes wigs for cancer patients.
Georggia Stamatopoulos, 8, of Elmhurst, who goes to school with Theo and his two sisters, Demetra, 8, and Sophia, 4, at St. Demetrios Pythagoras Children's Academy in Elmhurst, gave up about 10 inches of her light-brown hair.
"I feel sorry for Theofanis that he has to go through all this," she said. "If (he) wasn't my friend, I wouldn't have done it."
On a break from playing catch with his buddies, Theofanis said seeing his friends shave their heads was cool.
"I think they just want to be like me, maybe," he said.
"For most children, that is a very natural and healthy reaction," Kraus said. "Doing something like this makes one certainly feel they have less of a sense of helplessness," and the "tremendous sense of community" could aid in Theo's recovery.
Theofanis' diagnosis blindsided the family, said his father, coming a couple of months after the boy complained of pain in his elbow. At first doctors thought he had suffered a fracture and put the arm in a cast. But when the elbow didn't heal, more tests were done and revealed cancer.
Neuroblastoma is one of the more common forms of childhood cancer, said Dr. Susan Cohn, professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago, who is treating Theofanis.
"Fortunately, cancer does not occur very often in children, but in this small category, neuroblastoma is very common," Cohn said. "There are about 750 cases of neuroblastoma a year that are diagnosed in North America."
This kind of tumor usually begins in the tissue of the adrenal gland found in the abdomen, but also may begin in nerve tissue in the neck, chest and/or pelvis, according to information provided on the Comer Children's Hospital website.
Cohn said Theofanis has had two of six rounds of chemotherapy so far. More aggressive treatment awaits — radiation, stem cell transplant and surgery to remove the tumor in his abdomen.
"We are very hopeful he is going to respond to the therapy and do well," she said. "He has been a trouper."
The weekend event can only work to his benefit, she said. "To have friends and family come out to support you ... that is the best medicine in the world."
Longtime friend Galinda Tunney and her husband, Jim, helped arrange the day and shaved all the heads.
Throughout the afternoon, Eleni Yianas took pictures, tended to children and welcomed visitors.
"It was fabulous, it was fabulous," she said.