Kayleigh and her mom Michelle took the stage together, as they did at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Light the Night kick-off before the Dayton Dragons game in August. It was mostly Michelle talking and Kayleigh smiling at that event. But on Thursday, Oct. 4, the night of Light the Night Walk, Kayleigh came ready with a speech she had written herself.
She talked about the first signs of not feeling well, the diagnosis of leukemia, and her journey into treatment. When she said, “The chemo made me sick and I lost my hair twice,” you realized this little girl had found and used her courage many times before being asked to simply say a few words to a large crowd.
“We all have one thing in common,” she told them. “LLS has helped us all in one way or the other.” That was enough to bring the house down. They followed as Kayleigh as she led the way through the balloon gateway out of Lincoln Park and into the night for the fundraising walk. You could easily believe they would follow her anywhere as long it meant sharing the hope Kayleigh has for soon ending her treatment and making a full recovery.
It’s the same hope shared by Jen Sagowitz, a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, who stopped by Community Blood Center’s tent and LAB before the walk. Her latest step toward beating the disease was a stem cell transplant last January. “I’m doing good. I’m in remission right now. Every three months I go for a PET scan. I have one Friday. Say a prayer.”
She got a smile from her husband Karl and a hug from her nine-year-old daughter Lexee, a youth football cheerleader. “She’s one of my reasons for surviving,” she said.
Tom Beery of Miamisburg also stopped by the CBC tent. He’s a long-time friend of CBC with 160 lifetime donations. He was walking for his neighbor Ron Crouch who was diagnosed with leukemia last summer. “I was asked to help. I wasn’t quite sure how to attract donations then. I sent out emails on my list and it just happened. The money came in.”
LLS Campaign Manager Karen Carter understands. “Awesome” is how she described the response to the 2012 Light the Night. “Our budgeted goal was $137,000,” she said. “We made it before we even got here tonight.” It’s unofficial, but the event could end up raising $150,000 for LLS and the fight against blood cancers.
The walk goes quickly, perhaps because everyone seems to step lightly, buoyed it seems by the balloons they carry: red by supporters, white by survivors, and gold by those walking in memory of loved ones lost to cancer. It’s never easy in this fight. Even the cost of helium to float those balloons skyrocketed this year. The path of the walk and the journey through cancer is a high-wire challenge fueled by hope and the commitment to never look back and always look up.