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Light the night for cancer research Saturday

SCV “Light the Night Walk” unites families, friends, and cancer survivors

Posted: October 10, 2009 9:09 p.m.
Updated: October 16, 2009 1:21 p.m.

Marina Contreras' group "Team Evan," who walked for Evan Gabor, a Santa Clarita Valley 3-year old diagnosed with leukemia more than a year ago, was the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's top Friends and Family Team of 2008.

 
Hope will be illuminated with every stride when the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s “Light the Night Walk” is held Saturday, Oct. 17 at Bridgeport Park in Valencia.

The fourth annual Santa Clarita Valley walk invites families, friends and community members to engage in a two-and-a-quarter-mile stroll around the park to raise funds for the Society’s battle against blood cancer.

Games, refreshments and musical entertainment will commence after check-in at 4:30 p.m., followed by a brief remembrance ceremony to honor those afflicted with the disease.

Hope will rise as the sun begins to set, when participants lace up their walking shoes for the trek that will light the way to saving lives.

Carrying a balloon lit by twinkle lights to shine brightly through the night, messages of strength will be carried in the white balloons of patients and survivors, while red balloons held by family and friends show support and camaraderie.

A gold balloon, seen sporadically throughout the sea of helium, symbolizes a loved one who has lost their battle with the disease.

“This event is one way that cancer patients and their families can take charge of their own lives and help work towards a cure,” said Kathryn Scott, Light the Night director. “Seeing all of these balloons twinkling together in the crowd is a truly magical sight.”

As the night sky lights up, so do the faces of participants, who are encouraged to engage in the leisurely activity at their own pace.

“From seniors to small children, everyone is given the chance to come together for a meaningful community event,” said Scott. “We see some people pushing strollers or wheelchairs, while others are pulling little wagons with children in them. Even well-behaved dogs on a leash are invited to join in the fun.”

Walking the path to a cure doesn’t have to happen alone.

“People gather teams together to walk for those they know with cancer,” said Scott. “We have many teams of people who wear matching t-shirts with their loved one’s picture on it. It helps create a strong network of support.”

Teams are composed of families and friends as well as local businesses and organizations that want to reach out for the cause and walk with purpose. Participants ask family members, friends, neighbors and business associates to sponsor their walk by making contributions to the society.

75 cents of each dollar donated will support the variety of programs and services offered by the society to support its mission to “cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.”

“This event is like a warm hug that envelopes cancer patients, their families and people who want to make a real difference in their community,” said Scott. “Everywhere you turn during the night, you see someone who has been touched by cancer in some way. Behind every face, you will find a poignant personal story.”

Participant Marina Contreras used her family’s story to light the way for others.

Contreras is head of “Team Evan,” whose members organized over three years ago to support a survivor they know.

Contreras’ great-nephew, Evan Gabor was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was 23 months-old. Still keeping up the fight at age three-and-a-half, Gabor has undergone seven different phases of chemotherapy as well as multiple transfusions and spinal taps.

“I have a very special relationship with Evan and it helps to show support for him with all of our family and friends,” said Contreras.

“Some of my favorite moments over the last three years of Light the Night have been watching our team grow with members. Also it is so good to see that Evan is able to participate as he gets stronger. That is the best feeling.”

“Team Evan” has grown in number to include extended family and friends who gather together before each walk to eat a picnic, play games and rally support for their team.

The group knows that walking the distance isn’t just for members of their own family but also for others battling various forms of blood cancer.

Contreras feels that finding a cure takes one step at a time.

“When you raise money for the cause, you are helping to raise awareness for funding life-saving research for everyone affected,” said Contreras. “It is because of the efforts of everybody who supports this event that Evan is doing as well as he is today.”

Team Evan became the society’s top Friends and Family Team for 2008, as Contreras returned with more supporters to walk beside them for the cause.

This year, the event will bring the team together as they stride in preparation for Gabor’s next hurdle of cranial radiation.

A part of the executive walk committee for the upcoming event, Contreras has helped guide other families to see the light on the path to survival.

“Marina has been instrumental in working with our teams to explain how friends and families can take charge to find a cure,” said Scott. “She and her large family of supporters have inspired and personally helped so many of our participants and staff. We all feel like we have joined her extended family.”

Many teams and individuals participate in walks held throughout the Greater Los Angeles area and support continues to grow in walkers with each passing year. The SCV walk welcomed 1,300 participants in 2008; a number that Scott says the society hopes to match at the upcoming event.

The goal of each walk is to raise more than $1 million dollars locally to support the ongoing work of the society.
Participants hold a variety of fundraising activities such as bake sales, bowl-a-thons, yard sales and poker tournaments in order to generate support for the walk.

Participants are also given individual web pages that explain their involvement with the walk and inform viewers about steps to support the cause.

“We want our patients and their families to see for themselves how much the Santa Clarita community cares about them and how determined we all are to work together to find a cure.”

Since it’s founding in 1949, the society has become the world’s largest health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research and providing education and patient services.

Over $600 million dollars has been invested in research that has led to key advancements in understanding blood cancers and produced treatments to enhance and prolong lives of patients.

Advancements have been made in radiation, chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation as well as new, targeted therapies that kill cancer cells without harming normal ones.

By 2015, the society strives to reach all cancer patients at the time of diagnosis and make a significant difference for those receiving their services.

But Scott knows that the need for continued efforts is critical and that battling the disease is no walk in the park.

“Every five minutes someone new is diagnosed with a blood cancer and unfortunately every 10 minutes, someone dies from one,” said Scott. “That is why it is important to get the word out about this and other events to support the cause and find a cure.”

An estimated 912, 938 people in the United States are living with or in remission from leukemia, Hodgkin lymphoma, non Hodgkin lymphoma or myeloma.

Returning as SCV walk co-chairs are Gloria Mercado-Fortine and husband Bruce Fortine, who are members of their very own “Fortine Team.”

“This is such a wonderful event and is always an amazing experience,” said Gloria Mercado-Fortine. “We hope to see all of our friends in the community for this day of fun and hope for a life-saving cause.”

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