Group plans event for cancer research funding

By Jamie Loo

The Central Illinois branch of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society met last night to plan its annual Light the Night Walk.

Kristina Oncken, campaign coordinator for the Light the Night Walk in central Illinois, said the event will be held Oct. 2 at Westside Park in Champaign from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. The event brings together friends, family members and co-workers to raise awareness and money for blood cancer research.

“It’s to commemorate and celebrate the lives that have been touched by cancer,” Oncken said. “It’s more or less put together by families touched by the disease.”

This is the third year Champaign-Urbana has participated in the event and Oncken said more than 500 people attended the walk last year. Participants walk with lighted red and white helium balloons: red for supporters and white for survivors.

“We consider it a beacon of hope,” Oncken said. “When you see a sea of lighted balloons walking through the street, it’s pretty inspirational.”

The event also will feature activities such as live music, speakers, food and a kids tent with clowns and face painting.

Walks also are held in Bloomington, Chicago, Peoria, Rockford and Naperville. Last year, the six walks combined raised a little over $1 million and Oncken said this year they’re shooting for $1.4 million. There are 62 walks held nationwide in September and October, partly because September is National Leukemia and Lymphoma Awareness Month.

Blood cancers include Hodgkin’s disease, leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Web site.

The meeting was held in the parish lounge of the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Urbana. Oncken showed a short video about the Light the Night Walk and discussed fundraising techniques. Laurie Wiechert, patient services manager at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, gave a short presentation on the different services that the central Illinois branch of the society offers to patients and families.

“Our mission is to find cures and improve the quality of life for patients, so you’re all doing a little bit to help,” Wiechert said.

Judy Grumish, a local committee member, talked about how she got involved. Grumish’s son Ryan was diagnosed with leukemia three years ago when he was a junior at Central High School. Ryan was coming home from school and work tired and a little grumpy, something which Grumish thought might just be “typical teen stuff.” Eventually, she sent him to the doctor, who tested his blood.

“We thought it was mono or something,” Grumish said.

Ryan’s condition got worse when they found out that it was actually leukemia. They began searching for a bone marrow donor and none of Ryan’s siblings or other family members were a match. Grumish said her mother also was going through breast cancer treatment at the time, so it was a very hard time for her family. Within a few months, a bone marrow match was found for Ryan in Carbondale and the transplant was done in St. Louis, Mo.

Grumish said Ryan, now a junior at Parkland College, is doing well. Ryan’s doctor, pediatric oncologist Dr. Daniel Mussellman at the Carle Cancer Clinic, participated in a Light the Night Event in a different state and told Grumish that their family should participate. Grumish has been helping out with it since then, and last year Ryan and his donor spoke at the event.

Judy Pece, a Champaign-Urbana Optimists Club member, said her group has started a campaign to wipe out childhood cancers. Pece’s great-nephew was diagnosed with leukemia at age three, a common age for the onset of some types of childhood leukemia.

“We had never had cancer in the family before,” Pece said.

This is Pece’s first year participating in the event, and she said she is “anxious to start a team and see how we do.”

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society hopes to get more cities in Illinois to participate in the walk, and Oncken said Springfield will most likely be next. Oncken said the walk is an important event to raise awareness and funds to find cures for this growing disease.