KETTERING — Kettering eighth grader Gabe Duplechan is an Honored Hero of the 2018 Dayton Light The Night Walk, and it was his job to lead a crowd of 3,000 walkers away from the bright lights of the Fraze Pavilion and into a pitch black October night.
He had no idea where he was taking them.
But Gabe’s a blood cancer survivor, so he’s got this. “I don’t know,” he said as marched with confidence toward an uncertain path, “but I guess we’ll figure it out along the way!”
Most of the lantern carriers who joined the Oct. 18 walk to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society know what it means to counter uncertainty with confidence. Those carrying glowing red lanterns are the support troops for survivors like Gabe, who carry white lanterns high. Those honoring the memory of lost loved ones hold lanterns of gold. They all carry hope for a cure.
“Thanks to LLS I am here tonight,” three-time cancer survivor and former Dayton walk chairman Bob Reynolds told the crowd. “Thank you for being here tonight, for helping Light The Night, and thank you for giving hope to so many people.”
“For sure we’ll reach $350,000,” said LLS Dayton Area Director Cris Pederson of the 2018 Dayton Light The Night fundraising. “We have a very good chance of getting to our $400,000 goal.”
Dayton Walk Chairman Anita Adams-Jenkins announced Community Blood Center/Community Tissue Center as 2018’s top corporate team with more than $29,000 in fundraising.
“Remember the Fallen, Fight the War(ner)” was the top Friends and Family team with $13,497. Past Dayton Walk chairman Donnie Hill, who was honored by LLS with the Chairman’s Special Recognition Award, was the top individual fundraiser with more than $15,000 donated.
In all the applause for the success, in all the emotions of the “Survivors Circle” and triumphant walk into the night, there was also the quiet voice of Addy Henderson. The Kettering seventh-grader is a leukemia survivor and co-Honored Hero of the Dayton Light The Night Walk.
“It feels nice to show everyone that I survived,” said Addy as she matched strides with Gabe.
It was the first Light The Night Walk for the Napper family from Beavercreek. Their son J.J. was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in February. He turned five in July.
“He’s got a good prognosis,” said J.J.’s mom Carrie. “He’s in the 85 to 90 percent range. It’s the other bit that keeps you up at night.”
J.J.’s six-year old sister Myah carried a sign she made that spoke for the whole family: “I hope J.J.’s leukemia goes away.”
“We hate the reason for having to be here,” said Carrie. “But I feel the support already.”
Robyn Thomas from the “#mamathomas” team laughed as her daughter Gwyn helped tie her red “Survivor” Superman cape around her shoulders.
“On Oct. 13 I was two years in remission from Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” she said. She carries a white lantern as a survivor, but also a gold lantern for her mother, Sue Roddy.
“I went into remission and my mother was diagnosed. She had multiple myeloma and passed away just over a year ago.”
It’s Robyn’s third Light The Night Walk, and she’s proud of her team’s fundraising. “Last year it was $2,000 and we decided to double it to $4,000. We’re right at it.”
As another Light The Night ended, teams gathered for final photos. One family walked as “Team Curt” to honor Curt Lindstrom.
“My dad,” said Carley Lindstrom, “We just lost him Sept. 2. Stage four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”
During Curt’s battle with lymphoma Carley became a volunteer on the LLS Executive Committee and participated in the LLS Man and Woman of the Year.
Her father faced an uncertain journey. They fought together as a family with confidence. Their faith in finding a cure is unshaken, but this Light The Night was poignant.
“We held a gold lantern this year,” she said. “We were really hoping it would be red.”