Locals light up for cancer walk

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Whitney Trumble

More than 300 people gathered to celebrate and commemorate lives touched by cancer at the Third Annual Light the Night Walk on Saturday.

Hosted by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, 27 registered teams walked two miles to support those affected by cancer and raise money for medical research. Participants were greeted with live music, food and children’s activities as they entered West Side Park in Champaign.

Kristina Ondken, campaign coordinator of special events for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, helped organize the event.

“We want people to come out and support and commemorate loved ones that have been touched by cancer,” Ondken said.

She said one person is diagnosed with a blood cancer such as leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma or Hodgkin’s Disease every five minutes. Every 10 minutes, one of these people dies.

The purpose of this and similar events is to raise awareness and funds for research on these diseases while improving the quality of life for patients and their families, Ondken said.

The walk has been held at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana for the past two years, Ondken said, and was moved to downtown Champaign where the event would be more visible to the community.

Walkers held either a red balloon for a supporter or a white balloon for a cancer survivor.

The balloons were illuminated, symbolizing a beacon of hope, Ondken said.

Dr. Mike Musselman, medical director of pediatric hematology and oncology at Carle Hospital, helped found the walk three years ago.

The walk has several goals, Musselman said: to celebrate life and honor those affected by the diseases, to educate the community and to raise funds for research, educational purposes and family support services.

Various organizations participated in the event, including community groups and businesses that donated prizes and food for the volunteers.

Karl Witsman, a Danville, Ill., native, volunteered with his group, The Bortas, as security for the walk.

The group, which discusses science-fiction literature, makes sure things run smoothly on the walk, Witsman said. They also watch for problems like bikers riding on the wrong side of the path.

Kathleen Milligan, an Urbana woman who volunteered at the walk, said she participates because she is a cancer survivor and her father has both leukemia and lymphoma.

“Daily life is so busy that you don’t have time to think about the fact that so many families are dealing with cancer,” she said.

The walk allows families who are suffering to meet with each other and gain strength, she added.

Kristin Goodwin, junior in education, also volunteered at the event.

“I have had relatives who have died of cancer, so I want to do anything I can,” Goodwin said. “It’s a really good cause.”

Amanda Neilsson, sophomore in LAS, helped distribute balloons before the walk with Volunteer Illini Projects.

“So many people are affected by leukemia and lymphoma daily, so it’s important to get everyone involved and make a difference,” Neilsson said.

Milligan said the walk’s participants enjoy the fact that they can support one another and raise money at the same time.

“The camaraderie is great,” Milligan said. “Everyone gets something, and it’s fun.”