WHEELING - The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society will once again "light the night" - carrying illuminated balloons as symbols of hope against the ravages of blood cancers - in a 1.5-mile non-competitive, rain-or-shine evening walk around the track at Wheeling Jesuit University on April 17.
Wheeling Hospital will once again sponsor the event, and Chief Executive Officer Ronald Violi is the event's honorary chairman. Registration, food and pre-walk activities begin at 5:30 p.m. in the McDonough Center. There will be a brief program at 7 p.m., and the walk will begin at 7:30 p.m.
This year, the event is being coordinated by Wheeling resident Shaunna Dunder Hershberger. In her role as campaign coordinator with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Western Pa. and W.Va. branch, Hershberger is responsible for recruiting and retaining donors, teams, volunteers and committee members for the walk, as well as handling all logistics regarding the walk. In addition, she will help bring more awareness to the walk by attending events and networking.
Hershberger, a four-time survivor of Hodgkin's lymphoma, is excited about her new role.
"This is a cause very near and dear to my heart, and I'm very excited about this new position," she said. "I honestly believe that I'm still here so I can share my experience and help others facing the same challenge."
The Light the Night Walk is a national fundraising campaign aimed at attracting participants of all ages and abilities to reach out to friends, family and co-workers to raise funds to fight blood cancers. All funds raised support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's mission to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's lymphoma and myeloma, and to improve the quality of life for patients and their families.
In 2011, the Light the Night campaign raised more than $50 million to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's patient and research programs. The 2012 Ohio Valley Light the Night Walk raised $68,000 and involved more than 500 walkers.
The Light the Night Walk is unique in that participants raising a minimum of $25 will carry illuminated red balloons to celebrate and commemorate lives touched by cancer. Patients and cancer survivors will carry white balloons as a "light of hope" during this spectacularly illuminated parade. Special gold balloons can be carried in memory of someone lost to a blood cancer. Walkers usually participate in teams. One person, a team captain, will form or register a team, and then individual walkers can join. Any fundraising done by the group is typically split equally between all team members. Participants do not have to join a team and can walk individually; however, they are still encouraged to raise at least $25 to carry an illuminated balloon.
As a patient, Hershberger took advantage of the patient programs offered by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to help pay for some of her treatment related expenses. She also took part in past Light the Night Walks as both a participant and a team captain. "The Light the Night Walk is just a fun event where you can celebrate survivorship, thank your caregivers, and just enjoy a few moments away from the realities of cancer," she said. "Raising money is easy, too, especially if you don't want to plan a bake sale or traditional fundraising event. You get a personal fundraising page if you register an email address, and you can use email and social network sites to fundraise. Either way, it's worth attending. The sight of all those lighted balloons circling the track is so inspiring and is something you will always remember."
During her multi-year battle with lymphoma, Hershberger underwent extensive chemotherapy, radiation and a stem cell transplant. Her last treatment was June 2009, and she is currently three and a half years in remission.
"I just had my six-month PET scan last week, and the doctor told me there was 'nothing exciting' going on," Hershberger noted. "That's the way I like it. I don't want any scans that are full of excitement."
In addition to her duty as campaign coordinator for the Light the Night Walk, Hershberger works full-time at the Times Leader in Martins Ferry as the lifestyles editor. She resides in Wheeling with her husband, Justin, an attorney who opened his own practice in Wheeling this past November.