GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As day turned to darkness, a crowd gathered at Monroe North on Saturday in Grand Rapids for the annual “Light the Night” celebration.
“It’s an inspirational community event,” said Anne Bradley, Light the Night campaign development manager.
People eventually made their way to the street and showed support in each stride for blood cancer patients, their families and the countless others impacted by the disease.
Among the participants was Colette Smiley. Her white light gave a hint as to why she showed up.
“I am a leukemia survivor,” said Smiley. “It completely alters your life.”
In 2014, doctors diagnosed Smiley with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, or AML. It’s an often fatal cancer that forms in a person’s blood and bone marrow.
Smiley credits her treatment plan and a stranger’s stem cells for helping her enter remission within weeks of her diagnosis.
“I come here to celebrate, to celebrate each re-birthday that I have, but to also thank LLS for [what] they do each and every day and each and every year for blood cancer patients,” said Smiley.
According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, blood cancers impact an estimated 1.5 million people in the United States, with a person diagnosed once every three minutes.
Leukemia is the most common cancer diagnosed in children and adolescents younger than 20 years old. It accounts for 25.1 percent of all cancer cases in the age group.
Symptoms of blood cancers often only appear in advanced stages, but can include ones similar to a severe cold or flu. Survival rates at one point hovered around 3 percent, but now, it’s up to 95 percent.
“It’s our goal and our mission to end blood cancer and to improve the quality of life for patients and their families,” said Bradley.
All proceeds from “Light the Night” benefit LLS, which says 80 cents of every dollars goes directly to their mission.
Attendees, though, found a deeper value in the night.
“We all live different stories,” said Smiley. “We all work in different places and our families are different and our backgrounds are different, but something brought us together that we certainly didn’t wish for, blood cancer, but it’s brought us together and we can support each other now.”
“Light the Night” hopes to collect $1 million in Michigan.
To donate, click here.