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Light the Night Walk

Hundreds of people walk to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Two years ago, just before Hurricane Isabel crashed into the area, John Maki of Reston was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer of the lymphocyte.

“We spent our hurricane days in the [emergency room],” said Maki’s wife, Lena Mae.

“I really didn’t know I was sick,” said John Maki, who originally checked into the emergency room because he was suffering from chest pain that turned out to be a pulmonary embolism, a sudden blockage in a lung artery. “Once we got the X-rays back, [the pulmonary embolism] was a minor thing,” he said. The X-rays indicated that John Maki was also suffering from lymphoma.

Since then, John Maki, 52, has been resolute, undergoing a rollercoaster of cancer treatment, including a full course of chemotherapy.

“It looked like it was in remission for a while, but it came back,” said Maki. For now, doctors are monitoring the cancer’s growth, but according to Maki, he may need a bone marrow transplant.

LAST SATURDAY EVENING at the Reston Town Center, John and Lena Mae Maki and a several hundred other people participated in the seventh annual Light the Night Walk, a charity event that benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Standing in the pavilion at Reston Town Center, where the walk began, John Maki held a white balloon, along with other cancer survivors and patients. “This turnout is incredible,” he said. “I just can’t believe how many people are out here, and it’s good to see so many white balloons.”

Just a few feet away, Carl Schwartz, 12, of Fairfax held one of those other white balloons. Surrounded by about 40 family and friends, Carl, a non-Hodgkins lymphoma survivor, was diagnosed on his 10th birthday.

For nearly a year, he had chemotherapy treatment, which seemed to work. But on New Year’s Eve, Carl found out it came back.

“In April [of this year] I had a bone marrow transplant,” he said, adding that he’s still undergoing weekly chemotherapy.

During the walk, many more cancer survivors and patients carried white balloons as a symbol of their strength and courage, while other participants carried red balloons as a show of support.

When the event started at 6 p.m., a sea of balloons flowed down Market Street and along the two-mile route, which ended back at the town center.

MORE THAN 7,000 participants are expected to come together for similar walks held in the region as part of September's Leukemia, Lymphoma and Myeloma Awareness month. The goal of local events is to raise $1.7 million to benefit more than 2,000 patients supported by the National Capital Area Chapter of the society.

Since its founding in 1949, the national society has invested more than $360 million for research specifically targeting blood cancers.

On Sept. 24, a 2005 walk was held in Loudoun County at Ida Lee Park. Other regional walks will be held in Washington, D.C. (Oct. 6 at Freedom Plaza); Montgomery County (Oct. 8 at Rockville Town Center) and Prince William County (Oct. 14 at Harris Pavilion in Old Town Manassas).

Last year, the Light the Night Walks in the region raised more than $1.34 million. The money raised helps research for finding cures for blood cancers and improving the lives of patients and their families.

LAST YEAR, an estimated 107,900 Americans were diagnosed with blood cancers, resulting in 60,500 deaths, according to the national society.

Leukemia, a malignant cancer of the bone marrow and blood, is characterized by uncontrolled accumulation of blood cells. It is estimated that more than 22,000 deaths will be attributed to leukemia in 2005. There are almost 200,000 people living with the cancer.

Lymphoma is a general term for cancers that attack the lymphatic system and come in two forms, non-Hodgkins and Hodgkins. More than 62,000 Americans were diagnosed with lymphoma last year, according to LLS.