The annual Light the Night event returns this September. Learn how you can support friends, family and strangers fighting a blood cancer.
September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month, and on Sept. 28, participants will gather at PEAK Sports Club, 4401 Peak Dr., Loves Park, for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) annual Light the Night Walk. For more than a decade, area residents have supported the fundraising event, which uplifts those affected by blood cancers.
“All of our supporters come together to celebrate survivors, remember those who have lost their fight and bring hope to those still fighting,” says Leslie Crouch, senior director of Light the Night, LLS Illinois Chapter. “Light the Night began in another chapter, where family and friends of someone with leukemia wanted to do something special. Now, it’s held annually in more than 200 communities in the U.S. and Canada.”
The local walk, averaging about 350 participants, moved from downtown Rockford to PEAK two years ago. Festivities, which begin at 5 p.m., include a DJ, a bouncy house and free food, along with informational booths from various community and support organizations.
“I’ve participated for 12 years, in different communities,” says Matt Denning, captain of the LTN team from CH Robinson, a worldwide third-party logistics provider with offices in Rockford. “It fits our company’s culture. It’s family-oriented and a great, fun way to make people aware. My wife and I have a two-year-old and six-year-old, and they’ve come with us to the walk since they were infants.”
Once dusk falls – around 7 p.m. – each walker is given a lighted balloon in one of three colors: white for patients, red for caregivers/family/friends, and gold in memory of someone who’s passed from a blood cancer.
“It’s a beautiful walk, very visually appealing,” Crouch says. “There’s a wonderful sense of community, and new walkers are always warmly welcomed.”
“Light the Night is unique, rewarding and uplifting,” Denning says. “ It’s a great event for both the Society and the community, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it every year.”
LLS was started in 1949 as a fundraising and educational organization, by a wealthy New York couple frustrated at the lack of information on leukemia, which five years earlier had claimed their 16-year-old son. The organization grew steadily, first as The Leukemia Society, and later as The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, in order to reflect its focus on all blood cancers.
A major difference between blood and other types of cancers is the mystery surrounding the causes.
“Doctors have very little idea of the cause, so they’re unable to create any precautions,” Crouch explains. “Mammograms can catch breast cancer early. Lung cancer is linked to smoking. Sunscreen can mitigate the chances of melanoma. There are no preventable measures to avoid blood cancer, and it presents itself in so many different ways.”
Even so, research funded in part by LLS ($70 million last year, almost $1 billion in its history) has helped the more than 1 million people in the U.S. living with, or in remission from, blood cancer. In 1964, patients diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic lymphoma had a survival rate of 3 percent; today, it’s 90 percent. Yet research is only one of the programs supported by LLS funds.
“In 2012, we provided financial aid to 1,000 blood cancer patients in northwest Indiana and Illinois, and nationwide, the LLS national co-pay program provided $44 million,” Crouch says.
Through LLS’s BYOA (Be Your Own Advocate) program, newly diagnosed blood cancer patients are given a free BYOA guidebook to help them through the cancer process, with sections about insurance and financial assistance, on questions to ask, and for recording medical information and storing paperwork.
LLS also facilitates on-site cancer support groups, which are divided by cancer type and facilitated by social workers or nurses; its Back to School Program brings together teachers, administrators and parents to develop protocol for a patient’s return to the classroom. Another is the First Connection Program. “New blood cancer patients who have questions unanswered by doctors are put in touch with First Connectors,” Crouch says. “These are trained volunteers and survivors, and they talk to those being affected by the same type of cancer.
“One of my favorite stories is from a facilitator who received a call from a woman in northern Illinois. She had horses and was going to undergo a stem cell transplant, and she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to be around her horses. The facilitator connected her to a First Connector in Michigan who also had a stem cell transplant and also had horses, who reassured her.”
In addition to fundraising, Light the Night serves as another type of support program. “It’s a very emotional night, filled with people and their stories of hope,” Denning says. “It’s very uplifting to see others in the community who are supporting them. It’s something you have to experience.”
For information on forming a local team, volunteering or finding other Light the Night walks, go to lightthenight.org/il.