KETTERING, Ohio – The Light The Night walk in Kettering on Oct. 5 was a beautiful contradiction. The way a sad, grey day became a clear, bright night. The way paper lanterns were enough to chase the dark. And the way people who have known so much sorrow managed to find an uncommon joy.
“We’re here to tell Dayton and to tell the world that we want to see the end of cancer,” co-host Nancy Wilson from WHIO radio told the Fraze Pavilion crowd. They gathered at sunset for the Circle of Survivors ceremony introduced this year at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society national fundraiser.
As the blood cancer survivors raised their white lanterns in unison it was easy to understand why this simple stroll through a neighborhood on a night in early fall has become one of the country’s best known fundraising and disease-battling events.
The Dayton walk had met the goal of topping the $249,000 raised in 2016. Survivor Donnie Hill’s PMCI Pacers team was again the top corporate fundraising team ($33,175) followed by Kettering Health Network ($29,435) and Light The Night sponsor Community Blood Center/Community Tissue Services ($28,450).
The teams and supporters had mingled together at the park and gathered for the emotional lantern lighting ceremony. All that remained was for 2017 “Honored Hero” Eli Leingang, a seven-year-old leukemia survivor from Pleasant Hill, to lead the crowd on the walk around Fraze Pavilion and the Lincoln Park pond.
The red, white and gold lanterns symbolize supporters, survivors and those lost to blood cancer. Each lantern, bobbing in the night as walkers circled the dark pond, represented a life story.
“Team Lisa” walked for Lisa Lockhart, who was diagnosed with AML leukemia in 2015. Her treatment included blood transfusions three times a week at Miami Valley Hospital. “It was very tiring,” she said. “When your platelets are low and your blood is low you have no energy. It’s hard on your body. I am so thankful.”
Rosie Ariasfernandes walked with her friends from Kettering Cancer Care. She was diagnosed with AML on April 15 and started treatment the next day, Easter Sunday. She is in remission.
“It’s overwhelming,” she said of the Light The Night experience. “Everybody is so incredibly kind. The doctors are fantastic, my doctor is great.”
“We were in the hospital on this date five years ago tonight,” said Cory and Carmen Osenbaugh of “Team Ginger.” Their daughter Ginger was 10 years old when diagnosed with leukemia and served as the Dayton Honored Hero for the 2014 Light The Night.
Ginger is now a tall, happy sophomore at Centerville High School who accepted an invitation to her homecoming dance during Thursday’s Light The Night.
“It feels really special,” she said about returning to Light The Night as a survivor. “Because I understand what they’re going through. It’s hard. It’s important to be here because you know what they’re going through.”
The “Fight Lymphoma” team from the Miami Valley Hospital pharmacy walked for Melissa Mason. The petite 29-year-old was diagnosed with lymphoma in June. The treatment she began in July is grueling, and she needs a walker for support. Each round requires 12 days in the hospital for spinal injections, home for five days, then another week in the hospital.
“My most recent PET scan is clear,” she said. “I’m not out of the woods yet, but that’s pretty good.”
It seems to be one of the contradictions of Light The Night to see some of the warmest smiles on groups who walked the darkness carrying golden lanterns. Hope for their loved one’s survival had vanished in the darkness of the disease, but their hope is for others.
Twenty-two year old Adam and his 14-year old brother Sean talked about their mother Darlene Armitage who was diagnosed with AML on Valentine’s Day 2015, fought bravely for eight months, and died Nov. 1, 2015.
“Everything was going great, but the cancer came back,” said Adam. “Me and my brother were with her when she took her last breath. She was a great person. She lived for all of us in our family. We live for her now.”
As the walk ended the teams said goodbyes and turned to home. One group paused to talk about the namesake for “Team William.”
“This is our first year,” said Amy Davis. “He was 13. He was diagnosed on July 5, 2013 and lost his battle Aug. 2, 2013. He was diagnosed with the leukemia with the Philadelphia chromosome. It’s a dangerous chromosome and progresses very fast.”
William was just a seventh grader at Mad River Middle School and the disease overwhelmed him. “It was the longest month ever, and the shortest month ever,” said Rachel Ashbaugh, girlfriend to William’s brother Tim Lipscomb.
“We’ll be back next year,” said Amy, who praised William’s sister Gabrielle for organizing the team. “If we can raise money for kids like William, it’s worth the time and effort we put into it.”