Breast cancer survivor steps into Buffalo Grove dance studio to support cancer patients

Later this month, a Mount Prospect resident who overcame breast cancer will dance during an area fundraiser and try to show other women dealing with cancer that life can move forward after a diagnosis.

Rochelle Schleser even trained for the occasion at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Buffalo Grove after having never participated in a dance lesson before.

But that's because for her, the upcoming experience during the Pink Fund's "Dancing with the Survivors" fundraiser Oct. 22 in Itasca represents an opportunity to show others with breast cancer how rewarding life can be, she said.

"I'm feeling pretty good about it," Schleser, who now is cancer free, said.

Roughly four years ago, Schleser was at a different stage in her life.

On Sept. 22, 2012, Schleser, 38 years old at the time, attended a reunion for the Class of 1992 at Hoffman Estates High School and met a former classmate, Jay Schleser, who she didn't know well during high school but would later marry after reconnecting at the reunion.

The next morning, signs of a disease that could have cut the rest of her life short appeared. She recalled a coughing fit that morning and then a realization.

"I put my hand to my chest to take a breath and at that moment, I felt a lump," she said.

Doctors later confirmed she had breast cancer. But because of early detection, surgery and medication, she avoided chemotherapy.

She's been free of cancer since December 2012 and earlier this year, she officially tied the knot with her old high school classmate, Jay Schleser.

"I was ridiculously lucky that it was caught as early as it was," Schleser said.

A few months after her marriage, her step daughter, Summer, told her about the Pink Fund fundraiser and its connection to the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Buffalo Grove. Dance instructors at the studio would give eight free lessons and a chance to perform in the Oct. 22 fundraiser if $3,000 was raised to support daily expenses of people with breast cancer, Schleser said.

She teamed up with instructor Nick Haklin, who taught her a variety of moves. The two will dance a cha-cha for the audience during the "Dancing with the Survivors" fundraiser that supports the Pink Fund, a Michigan-based nonprofit that helps breast cancer patients cover their expenses.

"Rochelle's a blast," Haklin said. "She's not just another client."

A person without any formal dance training, Schleser admitted she was intimidated initially to do the lessons. But she said she wanted to raise money for the right cause — something she started doing in the years after her own breast cancer diagnosis.

She said she typically organizes a group of friends to take part in the Avon 39 Walk to End Breast Cancer hosted in Chicago.

"It was pretty intimidating at first," Schleser said of the dance lessons. "For somebody who is not technical, it was a lot."

Ahead of the featured event on Oct. 22, she still is rehearsing the dance routine at home before she appears on the dance floor with Haklin. But for her, the experience is meant to show what can await breast cancer patients after treatment.

"It seems so long ago," Schleser said of that late September weekend in 2012. "It's almost like I'm telling a story about someone else now."

rwachter@pioneerlocal.com

Twitter @RonnieAtPioneer

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