Leukemia & Lymphoma Society celebrates 20th annual fundraising night

Sunday, September 22, 2019 - 3:48pm

Community members gather for the lighting of the lanterns at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night fundraiser in Riverside Park Saturday night.

Community members gather for the lighting of the lanterns at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night fundraiser in Riverside Park Saturday night. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Alyssa McMurtry

In Riverside Park along the Huron River in Ann Arbor, family and friends gathered Saturday night to celebrate the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s 20th anniversary of the Light the Night fundraiser. The night started with food and games, followed by an opening ceremony of lighting the lantern and a walk around Ann Arbor.  

LLS was founded by New York couple Rudolph and Antoinette Roesler de Villiers in 1949 after they lost their son to leukemia. Named after their late son, the Robert Roesler de Villiers Foundation started in a small Wall Street office.  

Ann Arbor resident Anne Bradley helped coordinate the event. She has been with LLS for two and a half years and believes Light the Night is a perfect example of LLS’s mission. 

“It’s an inspirational community event based on raising funds and awareness to end blood cancer,” Bradley said. “Our mission is to end leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” 

Bradley explained how the funds from the fundraiser are distributed the vast majority of goes to helping individuals and their families afflicted by cancer. 

“80 percent of all of our dollars go straight to mission and the funds we raise support research, patient support programs, things like co-pay assistance, travel assistance, support groups and free education,” Bradley said.

Bradley brought up the high cost of medicine, making note of the 5,000-percent increase in the price of the drug Daraprim, used to treat some cancers and other illnesses. 

“We also support advocacy,” Bradley said. “Our job is to make sure that when cures do happen, the patients are able to access those cures.”

Bradley said the money is only a small part of LLS — the larger part of the group is to support families. 

“It’s about feeling that warmth and sense of community,” Bradley said. “I’ve talked to a lot of survivors and families and they talk often about how isolated they feel and how lonely they feel when they get that diagnosis. There’s something to be said for being part of a community and that’s what this is all about.” 

Light the Night also featured sponsored families with cancer survivors, one of which was Team Lena, which consisted of parents William and Amanda Kaczur. William said Lena’s journey inspired them to give back to the LLS community. He said the family feels a sense of community at events like Light the Night. 

“Once you go through an experience like ours, one of the biggest things coming out of it is pretty much everybody wants to give back,” Kaczur said. “This is a way for us to give back, to help support, to help promote because in a lot of ways we’re the most comfortable at places and events like this. There are so many people here with a similar experience so it makes us feel very comfortable.” 

Lena was only 18 months old when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Amanda got a call from their daycare program that she needed to go home due to a rash on her legs and arms. After taking her blood at their pediatrician’s office, they were worried about her high white blood cell count.

“That was it. We went to [C.S.Mott Children’s Hospital’s] emergency room and we started a six-month long chemo treatment journey to attack her acute myeloid leukemia,” Kazcur said. “She went through intense chemotherapy for six months. We finished up at the end of November and she just finished up what they call maintenance where every three months she was getting a spinal tap. She had her last spinal tap two weeks ago and she was negative for cancer.”

William said Lena was the strongest one of the trio and is amazed by the strength of their three-year-old daughter.  

“She was the strength, the glue that kept us all together, the one that’s going through it,” Kazcur said. “Kids are amazing. They’re so resilient.”

Kaczur is extremely grateful for all that LLS has done for the family and hopes more will be done for the future of cancer research.  

“We’re very happy but in the same token we’re very unsatisfied because there’s so much more that can be done for children, for pediatrics and blood cancers in general,” Kazcur said. 

In addition to family and friends of leukemia and lymphoma survivors, volunteers helped light the way as participants walked, including U-M Christian fraternity Beta Upsilon Chi. 

LSA senior Kyle Robertson and Public Policy junior Bennett Neuhoff have been in the fraternity chapter for two years. Robertson is the chaplain of the Beta Upsilon Chi and said events like these are essential to their faith.

“Our brotherhood is very intentional,” Robertson said. “One of our foundations of just being a Christian in general is wanting to go out into your community and wanting to serve people and be with people and if there’s a need in the community, we want to be the first responders.”

Neuhoff, the chapter’s president, said events like these are not only important to their faith, but to their fraternity as well. 

“We’re probably the least important people here,” Neuhoff said. “The people here, their lives have been affected directly and they are so passionate about this. I told Kyle when it started thunderstorming a little bit ago and we were wondering, ‘Oh is this going to happen?’ Of course this is still going to happen. These people care so much about this. Are they going to let a little rain stop them? Of course not.”