Margaret Kiesz beat cancer almost 10 years ago. But it's back, this time in her bones. Sometimes she aches.
If the pain comes when certain people are around, she forces a smile.
Kiesz runs a foundation in Irving Park that helps immigrant women with breast cancer who struggle speaking English to understanding their treatment and pay their bills while they fight the disease.
"Everyone look at you, and you have to give them power, even when you not so good feelings about your body," Kiesz says, smiling.
"I try to show that you can fight with everything you have, even if it's hard."
So no matter how she feels, Kiesz works. She's on the air at 6 a.m. every weekday hosting a brokered Polish-language talk show with her husband on WPNA-AM (1490).
For an hour, they discuss politics, current events and interview famous Polish folks in their native tongue. They've been on the air for 15 years. In some Polish-speaking circles, Kiesz is almost a celebrity herself.
But to the breast cancer patients who come to Kiesz's foundation, Zdrowie Plus, she's just "one of them."
Kiesz came to Chicago in 1990 with her husband from a small town outside Warsaw, Poland. He was an actor. She had studied journalism. They arrived with just $250. In a few years, they landed the radio show.
When she found a lump in her breast, Kiesz was just 35, didn't have medical insurance and could hardly speak English.
"I didn't know where to go or where to start. I was afraid ... [doctors] would take all my money," she said.
The cancer treatment wasn't just a battle for her life, it was a valuable education that Kiesz wanted to share with women like her.
So when doctors said she was finally cancer-free, Kiesz began offering strangers her help.
"If they don't have insurance, we bring them to Cook County Hospital or tell them how to find the best doctor to treat this disease. If they have trouble with payments, we try to find financial support for them," she says. "I am there for them because they don't know how the system works, and it is a horrible system."
As part of her outreach, Kiesz often goes to doctor appointments with patients to translate, and has doctors specializing in breast cancer treatment visit Zdrowie Plus, 7614 W. Irving Park, to talk about how to best manage their pain and exhaustion.
"Sometimes you can be so tired of this stupid disease, and we need each other," she says. "But when I see a patient getting better, my heart is jumping, too."
Kiesz says she tries not to worry about the cancer in her bones.
"I trust God, and he has me in his hands," she says. "I can show him that I didn't lose my life. I help people, and this is something for my future in heaven."