KETTERING — Blood cancer is a thief in the night who dares to steal young innocents like Chloe, Beckett, Gage, and Mila from their beds. It seems to take cruel vengeance on the mother who helped her daughter Robyn survive, or the father who was always there for his daughter Kaylee.
“Light The Night” is when thousands gather across the county to draw a line against blood cancer and say, “no more!” The one-mile Dayton Light the Night Walk around Kettering’s Fraze Pavilion began at sunset on Sept. 26 with “Honored Hero” leukemia survivors Chloe Spradlin and Beckett Richards leading the way.
Chloe and Beckett were part of the “Circle of Survivors” who raised white lanterns symbolizing their stubborn refusal to bow to blood cancer. Chloe’s team t-shirt said, “Cancer Picked the Wrong Princess.” They were joined by 3-year-old survivor Gage Brown and 2-year-old Mila Quillen who are both still fighting.
Walkers raised gold lanterns in memory of loved ones lost to blood cancer. Lincoln Park Pond was illuminated by red lanterns carried by supporters following the wooded path. They were united in celebration of research advances aided by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the hope for a cure.
“I knew I didn’t have a choice but fight. Fight for my family, fight for my life,” leukemia survivor Robyn Thomas told the crowd before joining the walk with her “Mama Thomas” team. Soon after Robyn’s recovery her mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and lost her fight two years ago.
“I struggle with ‘why not me?’ Why was I saved and why wasn’t my mom?” said Robyn. “I truly believe it’s because of Light The Night. It’s become my mission to continue my mom’s fight for her.”
“We wanted to be here,” said Gage Brown’s mother Brandy. “We didn’t come last year, he was too sick. It’s all really new. He’s still in treatment and takes a chemo pill every day for two years and goes to the hospital for chemo once a month. It’s the maintenance stage now. Tonight, we told him we’re going to a party and he was all excited!”
Mila Quillen was only diagnosed in January, so coming to Light The Night was all new for Lindsey and husband Donnie. “She’s now in maintenance, she started Sept. 4,” said Lindsey, who is a nurse at Kettering Health Network and was surrounded by her Kettering Cancer Care team. “I can feel the emotion.”
“The support is overwhelming,” said Mila’s dad Donnie. “To feel everybody showing support. By the time (Mila’s treatment) is all done with she’ll be four. Maybe we’ll answer some questions for her then.”
Kettering Health Network was the top corporate fundraising team for the 2019 Light The Night with $29,046, followed closely by Community Blood Center/Community Tissue Services ($29,022) and PMCI ($13,503).
The talk of the night was the record-setting fundraising in the Friends & Family team competition. The “Kwest for a Cure” team in support of survivor Tom Kwest raised $50,643, followed by Robyn’s “Mama Thomas” team ($10,283) and the Rudi Proud team ($6,540).
More honors went to the teenagers who topped the “Students of the Year” fundraising. The “Every Penny Counts” team of Lakshmi Jain and Megan Brunne from Miami Valley High School raised $72,000. The “Jump for Joy for SOY” team of Lyndsey Carter from Chaminade Julienne High School and Kaylee Crabtree from Beavercreek High was second with $63,000.
Kaylee, now 17, is a nine-year leukemia survivor who served as the Light The Night Honored Hero in 2012. In February, her dad Jayson Crabtree was diagnosed with a rare form of chronic leukemia.
“His oncologist said there is no relation,” said Kaylee’s mom Michelle, “It’s not genetic, just bad luck.”
In support of Jayson, the family changed their team name from “Kaylee’s Crusaders” to “Crabtree’s Crusaders.” It added inspiration to Kaylee’s Student of the Year team, which has raised $121,000 in the past two years.
“It’s having fun, and having a reason to do it,” she said. “It’s got to come from the heart to be able to raise that much.”
Money is still coming in for the 2019 Light The Night and LLS Dayton Area Director Cris Peterson said, “We’re hoping to hit $400,000.”
Diane Hicks has faithfully walked with the “Amanda’s Flutterbies” every year since her daughter Amanda’s death from leukemia in 2008. “It’s emotional. Last year it was 10 years,” said Diane. “This year seemed harder,” said aunt Donna Rowland. “I don’t know, maybe because it’s gone over 10 years. Her children are 19 and 17 now.”
Springfield’s Luke Kelly is a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, two years in remission. He finished the walk with his 5-year-old daughter Gentry skipping alongside him, wearing her dad’s red survivor cape.
“My first Light The Night,” said Luke. “I love it. This is powerful. Spectacular.”