Blood Cancer Survivors and Fighters to Light the Night

September 13, 2016
By: Julie Poucher Harbin , Writer, DCI

Kaitlyn Kopala (campaign assistant for Light the Night), Pat Luke (volunteer for Light the Night and CLL survivor), and Cameron Sims (campaign specialist for Light the Night) at the Sept. 1 kick-off booth at the Duke Cancer Center. (All with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society)Pat Luke, a volunteer with The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, had walked in the society’s Light the Night fundraiser for 16 years — long before she became a volunteer. She began when she was the head executive administrator for the vice president of the Raleigh-based EMC Corporation, which sponsored the first-ever Light the Night walk. She was an EMC team member. When she retired from EMC, she organized her own team.

Six years ago, Luke herself was diagnosed with a blood cancer; chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and she came to learn that her mother had passed away from the same disease. Eschewing the term “survivor,” Luke considers herself a “CLL fighter.” While there’s no treatment for CLL, her condition is being monitored by Danielle Marie Brander, MD, a hematologic specialist at Duke. Luke has a shiny disposition–upbeat and gregarious. Living with cancer hasn’t slowed this cool grandma down. She recently took her teenage grandson on vacation to Japan.

Earlier this month Luke could be found manning a Light the Night registration kick-off table at the Duke Cancer Center; greeting patients and their families who stopped by to donate or pick up literature about the upcoming Light the Night Walk, which will be held on Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Koka Booth Ampitheatre in Cary, North Carolina. Duke will hold two more of these kick-off parties: on Wednesday, Sept. 14 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the North Pavilion Atrium and on Monday, Sept. 19 at the Duke Cancer Center lobby and level 5 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Anthony Bethea, who's being treated for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL), stands with Pat Luke, CLL survivor and volunteer for Light the Night.There is no fee to register. However, participants are encouraged to form or join a team and raise funds. Those registering and raising or self-donating $75 or more at a kick-off party, will receive a coveted red lantern, usually reserved for participants raising at least $100. Patients and survivors registering will automatically receive the signature white lantern.

More than 5,000 people step out each year for the Triangle Light The Night Walk. Funds raised through Leukemia and Lymphoma events provide for vital programs and services to local patient battling blood cancers and also support local research to find better treatments and cures. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society currently funds more than $1 million in research grants at Duke.

Anthony Bethea, 55, has chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and small lymphocytic lymphoma. A car salesman who calls Raleigh and New York City home, he was used to traveling back and forth regularly between the two cities. He was diagnosed this July when he didn’t feel well during a family reunion, but said he’d been suffering from headaches and fatigue for about five years. He was thinking about opening up a dealership in Raleigh, but with his treatments now ongoing at Duke, those plans are on hold.

“I haven’t done anything since diagnosis,” Bethea explained, as he looked through the literature on Light the Night and chatted with Luke about his diagnosis. A biker (of the motorcycle kind), he said he’s going to get a new Harley when he “gets through this.”

Debbie Kennon, a lymphoma survivor, signed up for her first Light the Night Walk.Debbie Kennon, 52, a lymphoma survivor who was also at the Duke Cancer Center booth on Sept. 1, decided to sign up for her first Light the Night Walk. She said she didn’t think she’d live to see this day. She was diagnosed last October with follicular lymphoma after being admitted to the hospital and almost dying from what the doctor said was life threatening pancreatitis. She said that various doctors had dismissed her symptoms that included knots under her arms and in her neck.

After her diagnosis Kennon came to Duke and started chemotherapy treatment, two days a week for several months, under the care of Anne Wood Beaven, MD. Kennon’s been in remission for fourth months.

“The fear of death didn’t scare me, Cancer scares me,” she said, then brightened up. “I’m a survivor.”

Showing off photos of she and a friend who’d biked 12 miles for charity at an event in Thomasville, North Carolina, the week before, she said she was looking forward to Light the Night.

For this year’s walk, Duke Cancer Institute is teaming up to sponsor a Glam Station featuring spa-like activities hosted by the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program (DCPSP), including makeup and salon services, scarf tying, wig fitting and more. The Glam Station will also offer face painting for kids. The Duke Cancer Institute fundraising team is being led by cell therapy and hematologic malignancies specialist Stefanie Sarantopoulos, MD, PhD. Those who can’t make it to the kick-off parties, can donate and/or form or join a team online. Find details at Duke Cancer Institute Light The Night. The walk takes place Saturday, Oct. 22, at 5:30 p.m. at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, North Carolina.

Doctors, nurses and staff at the Duke Cancer Center urge you to "Light the Night."