On May 17, 2018, our family was thrown into the world of blood cancer. Our family's patriarch, our bonus dad, and our beloved "Candy Boy," as he was affectionately nicknamed by his youngest daughter, found out that he was in the aggressive stages of acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
Learning that a person you love has received an aggressive diagnosis and then watching them endure painful pokes, sickening chemo treatments, and long hospitalizations leaves you feeling helpless. Immediately upon finding out about his diagnosis, I knew I needed to channel the pain of this diagnosis into something productive. I googled The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). This is where I learned about the Light The Night (LTN) walk and saw that the walk was happening in my city within a few weeks.
Learning about the LTN walk gave me hope for the first time throughout my dad's battle with AML. My energy was able to be targeted toward a universal good ― fundraising for the LLS, educating friends and family about the impact of blood cancers, and the research being done by the LLS to combat this aggressive cancer.
I started "Team Candy Boy" in support of my dad Joe, utilizing the moniker bestowed upon him by his youngest daughter. We were supported at our first walk in 2018 by friends, family, and community members in Columbia, SC. Joe carried a white lantern, on the cusp of remission following a successful bone marrow transplant, and he walked alongside us. He was in the midst of his fight and awaiting his 100-day post-transplant results. He didn't let the fear of the unknown stop him or the tiredness his body felt after dozens of rounds of aggressive chemo. He greeted everyone he saw that day with a warm hug and many “thank you's” for their attendance in such an important event.
Joe battled his leukemia for 343 days. On April 25, 2019, a complication from one of his chemotherapy treatments brought Joe to his Heavenly home. Ironically, he died cancer-free due to the donated bone marrow of a kind stranger.
Our family participated in LTN in 2019, this time without our white lanterned hero, and we all donned the gold lanterns in his memory. It poured down rain, which felt eerily fitting. The rain masked our tears as we walked to remember Joe's life. Joe was a proud father, husband, lifelong educator, and Michigan State Spartan's fan. In his final days, Joe did what he did best ― he loved others well. His hospital staff and he would talk for hours about the things Joe loved most ― his family and his faith. He listened as they shared about their own families. He prayed for them, he prayed with them, and he prayed with us. In the end, Joe was showered with an abundance of love, only fitting to match the love he poured out during his days on Earth.
There is an overwhelming feeling of helplessness when someone you love is fighting against illness. LTN truly provides an opportunity to beat out the darkness of cancer. Because of the bright lights within the LLS and LNT family, we are hopeful instead of helpless. We walk to support a world without blood cancer. Joe’s battle lasted 343 days, but ours does not end.