More than 2,000 people who have been touched by blood cancer walked through downtown Rockville Saturday night, holding lanterns high in which the glowing colors symbolized whether they were survivors, current patients, lost loved ones to the disease or helping those currently struggling with leukemia or lymphoma.
Light The Night, a fundraising walk currently in its 20th year in Montgomery County, raised about $600,000. When combined with similar walks held in Reston, Va. and Washington, D.C. during October, the National Capital Chapter will have raised about $3.5 million, said Ria Freydberg, senior director at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Jake Waxman, an eight-year-old from Bethesda, addressed the crowd about his struggle with the disease. “It has been really hard for me,” said the second grader from the Lab School of Washington.
Leukemia is “not fun,” he said, but told those battling the blood cancer to “just remember you always have someone.”
He was diagnosed with the disease about two years ago and was in the hospital with his mother when other family members, including his now-10-year-old sister Eva, participated in the 2015 Light The Night walk.
He FaceTimed his family to see the event. This year, “Super Jake” participated in the children’s games, partook in food and other fun activities that made the event feel more like a tailgate party minus the alcohol rather than what could have been a very somber event for people with cancer.
Holly Morris, anchor of Fox’s Channel 5, officiated and introduced several people who either suffered from leukemia or lymphoma or were in remission.
Morris asked those dealing with the disease, either in the past or currently, to join together to form a circle of survivors and then to raise their red, white or gold lanterns high.
“We see strength, determination and courage. We see the people we are fighting for,” she said.
The event is “a very personal thing for our station” since several coworkers are battling the disease or have someone close to them that are suffering, Morris said.
“I can find no better way to give up my time than to support this organization,” she said, referring to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
“We root for those who are still fighting,” Morris said. “We believe a cure can be found one day. That’s what we walk for.”
Participants joined teams and raised money either in honor of those currently going through treatment or in memory of someone who had experienced the disease. Many wore shirts with a photo of their loved ones depicted.
Team Mason, one of the largest teams at the event, wore Superman shirts, except there was an M instead of an S, which stood for Mason Mazzuca, a six-year-old undergoing treatment after recently learning he was no longer in remission. He was four when first diagnosed.
His team was 200-people strong and had raised $24,000, according to Mason’s mother, Keli Mazzuca. The family lives in Olney, and Mason attends Brooke Grove Elementary School.
Inside their white cabana were boxes upon boxes of pizza, bowls of candy and chips, cupcakes and cookies. All the food was donated, she said.
Most teams filled their own white cabanas, that stretched up and down the intersection of Maryland and E. Montgomery Avenues, with snacks, drinks and tributes to the person for whom they were raising money.
While Team Mason prepared for the 1.5 mile walk which began on Courthouse Drive, Mason got his face painted to look like a cheetah and happily ran around in his Superman attire.
Although shy, Mason’s mother noted, “He understands we are helping people who have blood cancer.”
Erected amidst the Kids Zone area was a Light The Night tent in which people posted on pieces of red paper cut out to look like a drop of blood such touching messages as “We love you and miss you” and “Never give up.”
Light The Night events occur throughout North America as well as Australia, usually every fall although not all on the same night.