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Inside The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

30 September 2015 Written by  By Victoria Gallagher
Published in October 2015 Articles

For the past six years, I’ve been associated with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) and am campaign director for The Light the Night Walk fundraising event that takes place every fall in downtown Walnut Creek.

This year the event will be held Saturday, November 7 at Civic Park.

Our Bay Area chapter of LLS has been sponsoring Light the Night walks for more than 15 years. This will be my fourth walk, and I look forward to the event all year long. Each year we honor a particular hero, who serves as poster boy for that year’s Light the Night Walk. This year, our little hero is six-year-old Preston Osicka, who lives with his parents in Pleasant Hill. Preston’s treatments are scheduled to end this year, and we are all hoping and praying along with him that he will put this cancer behind him forever.

Light the Night provides engaging and entertaining activities for all ages. It begins at 5:00 p.m. with music by a deejay and featuring such things as clowns, face-painting, and other play activities for children. A bone marrow typing station will take samples from adults, through a simple cheek swab procedure, that will then be entered into the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry. As evening approaches, Vitas Health Care personnel will sponsor a Remembrance Ceremony in the City Park gazebo in honor of people lost to blood cancer.

Light the Night is a free event; everyone is welcome to join and take part. We expect about 2,000 participants. Each person who is able to fundraise at least $100 will be qualified as a Champion For Cures and entitled to receive a t-shirt; a free dinner, which is served on the grounds; and an Illuminated Lantern. The lanterns serve to make the walk special and inspiring. The light in each lantern is one of three colors. Red lanterns are carried in support of someone with blood-related cancer, gold lanterns are in memory of someone afflicted by one of the cancers, and white lanterns are carried by survivors.

At 7:00 p.m., we switch on our lanterns and Light the Night as we walk on a 1.8 mile course through downtown Walnut Creek. Some participants walk together in teams that might be composed of neighbors, friends and family, or employees in a particular company. Poster Boy Preston and members of his “Team Preston” family will be walking with us, Preston will be carrying a white lantern and the rest of the team carrying red ones, in his honor. Last year Astex Pharmaceutical was our top  team, raising $26,000. Wells Fargo sponsored a team that raised over $11,000. Both teams have gone on record as intending to increase that amount during this year’s walk. The goal this year is to raise a total of $360,000.

LLS was founded in 1949 by a couple who had lost their son to leukemia and decided to fund research to help prevent other families from experiencing the grief and sadness that had come to them. We focus on all blood cancers including leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. Our biggest focus is on blood cancer research and since we were founded, LLS has invested more than a billion dollars in research, with the happy outcome that a diagnosis of leukemia, for example, is no longer the death sentence that it was when the foundation was started by those grieving parents. Even though our focus is on blood-related cancers, LLS sponsored research has led to drugs that assist with other cancers, as well.

Back Story
My association with LLS began when I enlisted as a volunteer. I had graduated from St. Mary’s a couple years earlier and felt the urge to give back to society in gratitude for the benefits that had come to me. I found a Team In Training flyer at my 24-hour Fitness gym in Berkeley and was attracted by the fact that LLS was offering a way to satisfy my desire to do something to make the world a better place that would also help me meet my fitness goals, as well as provide a promising opportunity for developing new friendships.

I attended an informational meeting at the Emeryville Marriott where I joined a Team In Training group that would conduct fundraising hikes every weekend for the next four months. Each of us who succeeded in raising at least $4,000 during that time would be rewarded by an all-expense-paid Event Hike in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. The first weekend, the 20 of us Team In Training members hiked together two hours. Each subsequent weekend we added a half hour to the hike’s duration until, by the end of four months, we were walking eight hours and covering about 15 miles. Each of our hikes started from a different place including various locations in East Bay, Marin, and San Francisco. I conducted my personal fundraising efforts mostly with friends and family members and, over the course of the four months, exceeded my target goal by more than a thousand dollars.

The Great Smokey Mountains Event Hike turned out to be a gratifying payoff. A guide conducted us on an ascent to the 6,593-foot summit of Mt. LeConte. The hike took more than ten hours, and we didn’t arrive back at the hotel until after sunset. It was a wonderful exposure to a wilderness area with beautiful views of nature and exciting glimpses of wildlife. Part of our route lay along the famous Appalachian Trail. We got to visit a campsite/hiker’s hut and to imagine what it would be like to walk the entire 2,200-mile length of the trail, from Georgia to Maine. More than 700 people walked the entire length last year. We learned that the Smoky Mountains receive enough annual rainfall to qualify as a rain forest. Fortunately, we missed the rain but the weather was cold and overcast, which didn’t diminish our enjoyment of the hike in the slightest.

I was proud of my accomplishments! It was fun. I particularly liked the fact that, while having a great time of healthy exercise with other hikers, I had done something to make the world a better place.

During those four months, I learned a lot about LLS and decided to do what I could to promote the programs that the organization uses to carry out their amazing vision and mission. Following a lengthy application and interview, I was hired as the Team In Training Campaign Manager, which involved supervising the teams’ activities — coordinating logistics for the hikes and then assisting in the events themselves including helping participants to meet their fundraising goals.

At this point, I have done the Team In Training program four times and each time a number of my hiking companions have become close friends. There isn’t anything about this job, these programs, and LLS that isn’t wonderful.

Come walk with us this November.

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