Rays of Hope: Teams Blaze a Trail for Blood Cancer Research



The Construction Cares team walks in honor of Auden Nichols, age 7, and Jim Eckstein, both local blood cancer survivors.

Jon Keeling

 

About every three minutes, someone in the United States is diagnosed with a blood cancer.

If you want to help bring a ray of hope to someone enveloped in the darkness of a blood cancer diagnosis, there is still time to register to participate in this year’s Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Light The Night Walk, sponsored by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Tri-State Southern Ohio Chapter.

This inspiring two-mile walk, slated for Thursday, Oct. 10, begins at 7:30 p.m., at Yeatman’s Cove in downtown Cincinnati, where friends, families and co-workers will gather to celebrate, honor or remember those touched by blood cancer. Walk participants carry illuminated lanterns across the bridge to Newport and back – white lanterns in honor of survivors and the power of research; red in support of patients and finding cures; and gold in remembrance of those who have passed.

Money is raised through participants’ own fundraising pages, social media or – if you’re old school – personally asking others to donate to this life-saving cause. All 56 LLS chapters across the country participate in the Light The Night walk. This year’s local fund-raising goal is almost $1.2 million.

Light The Night is a great opportunity for large and small companies, businesses and organizations to support employees who have been touched with cancer, enhance company morale, encourage teamwork and generate goodwill in the community, says Dawn Berryman, LLS Senior Chapter Director.

Some of the top fundraising, local corporate teams participating once again this year include Towne Properties, Great American Insurance Group, Construction Cares, First Financial Bank, and OHC/Jewish Hospital/Mercy Health.  While a few of these teams are newer to Light The Night, OHC/Jewish Hospital/Mercy Health and Great American have been participating in Light The Night for over 10 years, and Towne Properties has been participating since the walk’s inception in 1998.  One thing they have in common is that they all have personal connections to cancer in their organizations and believe strongly in the LLS mission.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society – headquartered in Rye Brook, New York – was founded in 1949, and is the world’s largest voluntary health organization dedicated to fighting blood cancers. Considered to be the voice of all blood cancer patients, the LLS’s mission is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. The LLS has invested more than $1.2 billion in research, and is a leader in advancing breakthroughs in immunotherapy, genomics and personalized medicine.

“Blood cancers make up about 10 percent of all cancers, which is not a lot. However, since 2000, 40 percent of all drugs approved by the FDA for cancer treatment have been, first and foremost, approved for blood cancer,” Berryman explains. “Also impressive is that over half of those drugs have gone on to be tested and a majority of them used to treat brain, breast, pancreatic, bone, lung, colon, ovarian and other non-blood cancers. So, when a person or business supports the LLS, their money makes a wide impact.”

A Mother’s Instinct

Berryman became involved with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society soon after her daughter, Hannah, now 20 years old, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) – the most commonly diagnosed pediatric cancer – just before her fourth birthday. She had had a cough all fall she couldn’t shake, a low-grade fever off and on, and she was more tired than usual. Antibiotics eventually knocked out the cough, but the little girl remained lethargic and pale, and she was starting to develop bruises on her body.

“My mother’s instinct just kicked in, and I knew something wasn’t right,” Berryman recalls. So, she whisked Hannah to the doctor. A blood test showed that she had ALL.

“Acute lymphoblastic leukemia can kill you quickly if not caught immediately,” Berryman explains. “They sent us directly to Children’s Hospital.” Over the next 26 months, Hannah was treated with many different medicines, including oral, intravenous and intrathecal chemotherapy.

Hannah’s leukemia went into remission a month after starting treatment, but because leukemia can come back, she had to return to the hospital for treatment weekly and then monthly for the next few years. And because of the many possible long term side effects of her treatment, Hannah continues to be monitored regularly, Berryman notes.

In 1963, only about 5 percent of children battling ALL survived. Now, the cure rate for ALL is about 90 percent, Berryman points out.

Berryman, a jogger, began her involvement with LLS through its Team In Training Program, considered the largest charity endurance training program in the world. The program, founded in 1988, has prepared hundreds of thousands of athletes for premier endurance challenges, and they have raised more than $1 billion for cancer research. Berryman originally signed up as a way to train for Cincinnati’s annual Flying Pig Marathon and raise money for LLS.

She hadn’t planned on one day becoming the senior director of an LLS chapter. But then again, she hadn’t planned on her daughter being diagnosed with ALL.

“I came to understand early on how research had played an important role in saving Hannah’s life,” she says. Twenty-five years before her diagnosis, ALL would have killed her. But due to research funded through LLS, more kiddos are now surviving. I just knew I had to pay it forward.”

And the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is moving ever forward in dealing with pediatric blood cancer

“They’re working toward more targeted therapies versus broad chemotherapy treatments so that children don’t just survive but thrive,” Berryman says.

 

PAYING IT FORWARD

What a difference seven years and cutting-edge research can make!

Just ask Ann Davis, First Financial Bank’s Mortgage Banking President and Vice-Chair of The Tri-State Chapter of The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) board of directors.

Davis, a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor, is serving as the bank’s team captain for this year’s Light The Night Walk, sponsored by The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Proceeds from the walk help fund treatment research for patients who are suffering from all forms of blood cancers. The impact of LLS-supported research stretches
far beyond blood cancers, however, Davis notes.

“The discoveries made in blood cancer research have led to break-through treatments for many cancers and other serious diseases, and 76 percent of funds raised locally go directly to the cause,” she adds.

The realization that so many people today – including Davis – have been touched by cancer directly or indirectly continues to fuel her passion for supporting The LLS in its mission – to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s Disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.

“I’m very involved with the LLS because I feel I have an obligation to pay it forward,” she says.” I’ve watched a lot of my friends and people I know lose family members, and I’m still here, even after going through quite an awful experience.”

Davis was originally diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma when she was 26 years old, which was both shocking and terrifying, she says.

“I went through a pretty awful process,” Davis recalls. The course of treatment at that time was limited but effective, and she underwent several surgeries to remove various lymph nodes throughout her body. She later went through 9 ½ weeks of daily radiation, lost her hair and experienced exhaustion the likes of which she had never experienced before. It was a long, painful, difficult challenge for Davis as well as for her family and friends.

Thankfully, she pulled through.

Fast-forward seven years after her original diagnosis when, unfortunately, scans and blood work showed the Hodgkin’s lymphoma had returned. “I was devastated, but I was fortunate because there were new medicines, a different approach, and a new chemotherapy called Rituxan,” Davis says. She underwent that treatment for two years and, although it was still difficult, it did not force her to put her whole life on hold as it had the first time around.

“I worked full-time, and I actually trained for my first marathon with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training,” says Davis.

By running that marathon, she became an inspiration to other runners. In fact, “If Ann can, I can,” became the mantra for her teammates that trained alongside her.

And that’s the difference research funded by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and the resulting improvements in medications and treatment protocols, can make, Davis continues.

“I am lucky to have been able to experience what research can truly do for patients,” she says. “The changes in treatment from 1999 to 2006 were drastic, and that kind of research continues because of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.”

She is one of the millions of people today who share this type of inspiring, hope-filled story, Davis emphasizes. An ever-increasing number of people diagnosed with blood cancer are living and having a better quality of life.

“I am so happy First Financial is supporting a cause like this,” Davis says. “I feel like it aligns with our corporate strategy in two ways. First, we want to be part of the communities we serve and be involved in things that matter to people in those communities. Our associates are participating in walks in several locations across our operating footprint including Louisville, Dayton, Indianapolis and Columbus,  not just in Cincinnati. So, if you work for a company with locations elsewhere, sponsoring a corporate team for Light The Night can really bring the whole company together.”

Beyond being a great company team building experience, sponsoring a corporate fund-raising team for Light The Night connects companies with their clients in a different, deeper way, too.

“A client who sees an organization supporting a cause like cancer – when you think about how many people you know who have gone through it – makes for more meaningful, more personal conversations,” Davis notes.

First Financial Bank’s corporate strategy also includes a large commitment to investing in its people, she continues. “A big component of that investment is in our associates’ physical, emotional and financial well-being, so we think participating in Light The Night aligns with who we are as a company and as a member of our communities.”

Additionally, the bank is sponsoring a Hoxworth blood drive July 29 for employees at First Financial’s Cincinnati and Dayton locations. “There are a lot of blood cancer patients who end up needing transfusions, so we thought this is something we can really get behind,” Davis says. “Blood donations are a great way to complement the fundraising efforts of events like Light The Night.”

Forming a Light The Night Walk corporate team is super easy, according to Davis. Just visit the LLS Tri-State Southern Ohio website (noted at the end of this story) and click on the Light The Night button.

“Once you talk to Ann and hear her story, it’s very easy to get on board with LLS,” says Tony Stollings, Chief Banking Officer at First Financial Bank, who serves as this year’s local Light The Night Walk Corporate Chair. “Frankly, our company had not really had any involvement with LLS until Ann joined us a year ago. We’re just really excited that we can be a strong corporate partner with the LLS.”

Cancer research takes dollars, he notes. “So, we’re happy to be involved. What’s been eye-opening for me is how many people have been touched by cancer either personally with their family or through a friendship network. There are so many people out there who are dealing with cancer in general and blood cancer specifically. Blood cancers account for more than 40 percent of all childhood cancers. So, when you look at this organization and what it’s trying to do, you see a lot of young people. It makes you stop and think.”

The Light The Night Walk has become a First Financial Bank priority, and out of Stollings’ personal network, not one person has declined to get involved, he points out.

“It’s one of those things you know makes a difference, so you create the capacity to do it. And I am happy to do that.”

 

The Leukemia Lymphoma Society (LLS), Tri-State Southern Ohio Chapter, is headquartered at 4370 Glendale Milford Road, Blue Ash, OH 45242. For more information, call 513.698.2828 or visit www.lls.org/tri-state-southern-ohio.

For more information about the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Light The Night Walk, visit www.lightthenight.org/events/cincinnati-n-ky.