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Chantilly Woman in Fund-Raising Walk

Chantilly's Alicia Silva is a wife, mother — and cancer survivor. And to help others stricken with this devastating disease, she's participating in an upcoming walk to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

It's the Light the Night Walk and will be held Saturday, Oct. 2, at 6:30 p.m., at the Reston Town Center. Walkers traverse a 2 1/2-mile path around the town center, starting and ending at the pavilion outside Clyde's restaurant.

"Participants carry red, helium-filled balloons and survivors carry white balloons — and they're all lighted and flash off and on," said Silva. "By the time the sun goes down, it's a really beautiful sight — a sea of flashing, red and white balloons."

She and her husband Pete live in the Paterra community behind St. Timothy's and have two children, Charlie, 9, a fourth-grader at Poplar Tree Elementary, and Annie, 4. But life wasn't always so rosy for Silva, 37.

In July 1996, a year after giving birth to Charlie, she had a routine, OB-GYN checkup. She felt fine and had no symptoms of anything, so it took her totally by surprise when her doctor found an abnormal mass in her pelvic region.

Three months later, after many more doctors' visits and test, it was determined that Silva had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. "The type of lymphoma was not uncommon, but the location was, because it wasn't in the nodal system," she explained. "That's why it took them awhile to discover the tumor and get a good biopsy of it."

She underwent aggressive chemotherapy from December 1996 until March 1997, and it definitely wasn't pleasant. But, she said, "I feel blessed because the chemo got it, and I've been cancer-free since. They say I'm cured. Otherwise, I would have had to have a bone-marrow transplant."

The most frightening thing, said Silva, was that she was the second person in her family to have cancer. "Ten years earlier, my mother was diagnosed with CML — chronic myelogenous leukemia — which is cancer of the cells in the bone marrow," she said. "But she had a bone-marrow transplant and, fortunately, it was successful and she's still with us today."

While Silva was fighting her own battle, she and her family became involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They took advantage of its many offerings, including educational seminars, family-support programs and information about reimbursements for expenditures not covered by health insurance.

"Then when I got back on my feet again, they asked if I'd come to their leukemia ball, share my experience with their donors and tell how the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society had helped us," said Silva. After doing so, the society asked her if she'd become an "honored teammate."

"They have a program called Team in Training, which participates in marathons and races in the U.S. and around the world," she said. The team provides support for the runners — such as guidance about how to train and prepare for the competitions, plus information about everything from nutrition to footwear. It also holds training runs on weekends.

"In return, the runners commit to raise a certain amount of money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society," said Silva. "The honored teammate doesn't run, but provides [his or her] story to inspire the team about the cause for which they're running and also cheers them on during their weekend training."

She did that for a couple seasons and then, three years ago — in fall 2001 — she and her family and friends formed a team and began participating in the Light the Night Walk in Reston. There are three others in the Washington Metropolitan area, but this is the only one in Fairfax County.

Combining Silva's last name with the word "survivor," her team is called Team Silvivor, and she's the captain. "Last year, we had about 30 people walking with us; this year, it's over 100," she said. "We send out letters and go door-to-door to raise money. And this year, we also held fund-raisers."

The team members sold doughnuts, cooking utensils, candles, ice cream sundaes and baked goods. They held bunco parties and silent auctions and did fund-raisers in conjunction with Baja Fresh, Milwaukee Custard and the Brookfield Swim Club in Chantilly.

"We set our team fund-raising goal at $10,000, and we've met and surpassed it," said Silva. "We probably have over $11,000 now."

Other area residents may also help the effort. Anyone interested in walking with her team, individually or with a small team of even just one friend or relative may register, up to the night of the walk, around 5 p.m. along Market Street in the town center.

Teams need only raise a minimum of $25 to participate. To register or for more information about the event or the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and its services, see www.lightthenight.org\nca or call 1-800-955-4572.

"It's to raise funds, but also to raise awareness of these diseases," said Silva. "And strollers and wagons are welcome. It's a really fun night. There'll be live music [Goldie's Rock & Roll Revue], refreshments and face-painting and clowns for the children."

Blair Welch, campaign manager for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, said 2,000-2,500 walkers are expected at the Reston event. "We hope to make $370,000 [there] and $1.2 million total from all four walks," she said.

Proceeds go toward blood-cancer research and patient services. Welch said the walk's red and white balloons represent the body's red and white blood cells, and their flickering lights symbolize "lights of hope."

So what keeps Silva involved in this event, year after year? "The society played such an important part during my illness, and we benefited from their patient services," she said.

"We feel so blessed that my mom and I are survivors that we wanted to give back to this organization that does so much for patients and their families," continued Silva. "But this is more than just about me. It's about a group of people of all ages making a difference in the lives of others."