CHICAGO (WLS) -- Maria Luisa Gonzalez was hit with life-changing news three years ago when she was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer on March 5, 2016.
She was in training for a half marathon and just had a mammogram six months earlier when she got the terrifying news.
"I don't remember anything else that the doctor said except those three words, 'You have cancer,'" Gonzalez said.
After that she began to walk the same path so many other women walk, undergoing surgery, dozens of doctor visits, and chemo. The experience was very personal and took a toll on nearly every aspect of her life, oftentimes including hair loss for many women.
"Receiving the news that you have cancer is hard, but you know, as a woman when your hair starts to fall it's even harder to even deal with it. Just looking in the mirror every single day, just to know you no longer look like yourself anymore," said Gonzalez.
She's spent most of her life as a CPS teacher, inspiring her first grade students to be great. Her magnetic energy is now a gift she uses to help women battling cancer to keep their faith.
While she was undergoing chemo she was gifted a head scarf by her best friend and cousin, which helped her no longer feel embarrassed by her hair loss.
Now, she's using that same gesture to pay it forward.
For two years now she's returned to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, cancer free, to hand out scarves to other women who are suffering from the same struggle she faced losing their hair due to chemo.
"It means a lot. A lot of times people are sad when they're getting chemo and I say be sad when I can't get chemo," said Diane Cannon, a current cancer patient at Illinois Masonic.
Gonzalez decided in 2017 to partner with the hospital where she received treatment to hand out scarves to women fighting various cancers. Her foundation, Courage For The Soul, delivers scarves to women fighting cancer all across Chicago.
"I know I'm not the only one, and I pray every day to be blessed and overcome the cancer," Cynthia Reed said.
And it's not just her students and cancer patients she's inspiring anymore. She's teaching everyone she meets an important lesson.
"You get back up, you pick yourself up with that courage, and you meet others that need that courage too," said Maritess Caamic, the Director of Cancer Institute at Illinois Masonic.
Gonzalez writes a hand written note for every scarf she sends out and has received an overwhelming positive response. Each scarf is free for the patients and donated by individuals who feel compelled. For more information on how you can donate a scarf visit Courage For the Soul.
Cancer survivor, CPS teacher pays it forward donating scarves to cancer patients