KETTERING, Ohio – “Light The Night” is a night filled with stories: Some happy, some hopeful, some achingly sad. Every hard-learned lesson about blood cancer is never easy to tell. But just as a sad, rainy Thursday, Oct. 3 gave way to another beautiful night for the annual Leukemia & Lymphoma Society fundraising walk, hope has a way of outshining the darkness.
Community Blood Center (CBC) was again a presenting sponsor of Light The Night, and was also represented with a CBC booth featuring games and giveaways, the LAB mobile classroom, and a Light The Team of walkers and volunteers.
The CBC booth attracted young and old, all dressed in a rainbow of team colors, each named for a special someone, all united by the cause. Amanda’s Hope, Always Friends, Rebels for a Cause, Team GG, Kayleigh’s Crusaders, Kathy’s Krew.
LLS supporter Ron Wynne was a Man of the Year candidate. His family keeps alive the memory of his daughter with the Amanda’s Hope team. She died of cancer at age 23 after a failed experimental treatment. “She died helping others,” said Ron. “That’s the way she wanted to do it. She was an EMT. This is why we do what we do.”
“Always Friends” is for Laura Always, a 27-year leukemia survivor. “She’s doing well,” said a team member. “There were a couple of years here when she was not doing well. She has benefitted from research and drug therapies more than I can probably count. She is an amazing, joyful person and we’re glad that she’s our friend.”
John Ballard is Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor and proudly tells volunteers at the CBC booth that his wife Jean is a blood donor with more than 60 lifetime donation. “I used 28 units of blood over a year,” he said. “When I first went in they gave me four units right away. When I had a stem cell transplant I used a lot.”
Nearby the booth, friends and family members signed a banner for “Team GG.” “My name is Ginger,” says 11-year old leukemia survivor GG Osenbaugh. “That’s my nickname.” It was almost exactly a year ago that GG was diagnosed. As she went into the hospital, a hastily formed team walked for her at Light The Night.
Like so many of the stories at Light The Night, GG’s began with a father’s sense of dread. “She came home from dance class and I could tell something was wrong,” said Cory Osenbaugh. “She just didn’t look right. She was so tired. Less than week later she was getting her (chemotherapy) port put in.”
Also in so many Light The Night stories, the Osenbaugh’s had a brief period of uncertainty before the true diagnosis emerged. “At first they thought it was viral, maybe mono, and they were going to send her home,” Cory said. “The next day her doctor said, ‘I thought about it, and I just want to be sure,’ and he ordered a bone marrow test. It came back acute lymphoblastic leukemia.”
The survival rate is high for children younger than GG, but she has beaten the odds. She may even follow in the footsteps of survivors like Kayleigh Crabtree and Caulin Booher, young neighbors who both battled blood cancer, and both became LLS “Honored Heroes.”
Caulin and his mom were the featured speakers in the program before the walk, and would lead the walkers out along the dark path circling the Fraze Pavilion’s Kettering neighborhood. Kettering Mayor Don Patterson proclaimed “Light The Night” Day. The crowd heard emotional testimonies from Dayton LLS “Man of the Year” Joe Parisi and lymphoma survivor Michelle Kingsfield, who tearfully hugged her son Robert who she was pregnant with when diagnosed.
The crowd also heard a heartfelt thank you from Light The Night Campaign Manager Karen Carter who lost her daughter Caroline to cancer. This year’s walk raised more than $200,000, somehow topping the success of 2012, Karen’s first as campaign manager.
Caulin and his mom Suzanne delivered the most emotional testimony of all. “Our good friends’ daughter Kayleigh lived three doors down,” she said. “We had just finished going through this journey with them when we were blind-sided when the disease struck our family too.
Caulin talked about the miracle of receiving a perfect match from an unrelated donor. “We call it my re-birthing day,” he said. But on the road to recover he was diagnosed with lymphoma just days before Christmas and spent the next 60 days in isolation. “Miraculously after the first round of chemo he went into remission,” said Suzanne. “He is a two-time cancer survivor at the age of 10.”
“LLS has a slogan,” said Caulin. “When we walk, cancer runs. There are many heroes here for the walk tonight. When we walk we can beat cancer together.”
With that Caulin finished his story and led the way into the night. Glowing red, white and gold balloons followed behind him, straining at their ribbons to reach the sky. On this night they outnumbered the stars.