KETTERING, Ohio – An unfamiliar path through the darkness was waiting for blood cancer survivors and their supporters Thursday, Oct. 1 as they gathered at Kettering’s Fraze Pavilion for the Leukemia & Lymphoma fundraising “Light The Night” walk. But with the same determination they share for finding a cure, they found the way.
LLS did introduce a new walk route, with fewer turns and street crossings. But everything about Light The Night was new to those taking part for the first time. Every year brings new teams, marching united in support of a loved one newly diagnosed. Both new and returning patients became part of a new tradition, also introduced Thursday night, before the walk even began.
In a symbol of solidarity in their journeys to recovery, patients wore bright red Superman capes emblazoned with “Survivor” and walked through the crowd in a “Survivor’s Parade.” They finished together on stage to a swell of music and thundering applause.
Piqua’s Robyn Davis was one of them. She’s a wife and a mom of a 16-year-old son. She was diagnosed last November with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and has already undergone stem cell transplant from her sister, a perfect a match. She went from the stage, back through the crowd, and into the arms of her parents for a long, tearful embrace.
“I’m doing good,” Robyn said. “I go back for more testing. My first year, LLS has been so supportive. Complete strangers encouraged me.” She spoke of her faith, the love of her parents, her three sisters, and the tireless support of her husband Matt. “You never do anything alone,” she said. “I couldn’t have done this without my family.”
For Beavercreek’s Michele Spiekermann, the Survivor’s Parade was also an anniversary celebration. She was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on Oct. 1, 2010. As a five-year survivor, when she shared the stage with patients like Robyn, she also shared hope. “It was awesome,” she said. “We were all tearing up on stage.”
Dayton Light The Night Chairman Donnie Hill, a lymphoma patient still undergoing treatment, proudly called his fellow survivors “warriors” in the fight against the disease. His company PMCI was the top corporate team with $45,000 in fundraising and he personally raised $24,000 to top the executive challenge.
Community Blood Center/Community Tissue Services, last year’s top fundraising team, was second this year with $37,800 raised. The top family and friends team was “Remember the Fallen, Fight the War-ner” with $14,294 in fundraising. The Dayton walked exceeded its goal with more than $283,000 raised for LLS.
“Honored Hero” Zach Meredith, a 12-year-old leukemia survivor from Springboro, took the stage in his red “Survivor” cape with his dad Bill. “October 10th of last year was his first treatment,” said Bill. “It will be one year and he’s already planning a party! But this journey never ends. A simple cough, and you wonder if it will come back. We have a lot of people to thank. Without you folks Zach wouldn’t have a cure.”
The crowd paused in silence as those who lost loved ones to blood cancer raised their gold lanterns. Zach held his white lantern aloft when it came time to honor all survivors, then led the crowd out of the Fraze and onto the dark streets.
At the end of the walk Zach talked about how grateful he was to celebrate his Sept. 17 birthday with a party at home this year, instead of in the hospital as he did the year before. It’s been a challenging and often consuming year for Zach, who his mother Tricia said has struggled with his life being defined by cancer. But he embraced the challenge of being the brave face of an Honored Hero.
“I was scared in the beginning, because I’m shy a little bit,” he said about his appearance on stage before the Light The Night crowd. “But when I was up there I felt really proud of myself because we raised a lot of money to fight cancer.”
AN ELITE TEAM OF HONORED HEROES
It was inspiring to see 2015 Dayton Light The Night Honored Hero Zach Meredith from Springboro joined by fellow Honored Heroes from the previous three Light The Night Walks. Zach has become good friends with 2014 Hero Ginger Osenbaugh, 2013 Hero Caulin Booher and 2012 Hero Kayleigh Crabtree.
“I feel really good to walk and be here in honor of all the people who have cancer,” said Caulin, “and to show other people you can survive.”
WHY THEY WALK
“Jen’s Crew” walked again for 36-year-old Jen Sagowitz who was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2009 and has fought back against two relapses. Her fight is not over. “They found a spot in my breast and I have to get it checked out next week,” Jen said. “I’m worried because I’ve had so much radiation.” She then drew on the same personal strength that has made her a long-term survivor. “I’m a fighter,” she said. “I never give up. I’m NOT going to worry about.”
Danielle Koogler, a freshman at Sinclair Community College from Beavercreek, walked with her mom in support of her grandfather Jim Bash, a leukemia survivor. “I’m an O-negative (the “universal donor” blood type),” said Danielle. “Any time I donate I get a phone call saying they used my blood to help someone at a hospital. It makes me feel good.”
Angie Bushbaum and her daughter Madison walked for her dad, Mike Masters who died in 2006 at the age of 55 after complications from non-Hodgkins’s lymphoma. She walked with co-workers from Airtron, who she said show their support by vowing, “You’ll never walk alone.”
Cindy McBride walked for former co-worker Dan Collins who died on June 4 soon after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer. They worked together at the Austin Landing Kroger and team support for Dan comes from the UFCW 75 food workers union. “I remember he was coughing at work and about six weeks later he was gone,” she said. “He went into the hospital and never got out. It just destroyed our whole department.”
The On Eagles Wings team walked for James “Jim” Gilley, who passed away Jan. 30 at the age of 72. His wife Kim said he was diagnosed in May of 2014, but had been in remission. “He was going through stem cell transplant and only had three chemo treatments left,” she said. “He went through many blood transfusions,” she said.
Lexi Heironimus, a senior at Wright State University, walked for her uncle John Priest, a blood cancer survivor. “He just went into remission,” she said. “That meant that he was finally able to come home after three months of treatment for leukemia.” Lexi’s team support comes from her sorority. “LLS is our national philanthropy,” she said.