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Light the Night

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

In 1999, Hemant Vyas, 66, was diagnosed with lymphoma, a blood cancer of the lymphocyte.

“He came to our house and told us about the cancer with a smile on his face,” said Suman Berry, a longtime friend. “Most people have tears in their eyes when they face this thing.”

With irrepressible optimism, Vyas, a civil engineer from Burke, beat the cancer after undergoing chemotherapy.

“But in 2001, it came back,” said Vyas.

During his second fight with cancer, Vyas had three stomach surgeries and received a higher-grade, intravenous chemotherapy six sessions a month, five hours each session.

“I lost all my hair,” said Vyas. “I lost platelets.”

At one point after treatment he passed out in the car, said Vyas’ wife, Malini.

With family and friends, Vyas commemorated his victory over cancer, which has been in remission for four years.

A few feet away, Karl Kaufman of Falls Church was celebrating a similar victory.

The 34-year-old spent most of last year battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma. “In November, it went into remission, and here I am today,” said Kaufman, who was diagnosed at 32.

Today, Kaufman and his wife, Stephanie, take little for granted. “It’s been a rollercoaster,” said Stephanie Kaufman. “Right now, things are looking pretty good.”

VYAS AND KAUFMAN joined hundreds of other people Oct. 7 in the eighth annual Light the Night Walk, a charity event that benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

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.

Another person holding a white balloon, Eleni Yeonas of Arlington, continues to fight non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“I was diagnosed last May,” said Yeonas, 46, a mother of three.

“It’s been physically difficult,” said Yeonas, describing her treatment. “But I’ve had so much support from friends and family that I’ve never broken down.”

As Yeonas nears the completion of her treatment, she found more inspiration from the walk. “I’m so happy we’re able to contribute so much money to find a cure and help alleviate what I’ve gone through,” said Yeonas, standing in the Pavilion among more than 100 supporters holding red balloons before the event started. “I’m just overwhelmed with all the support.”

When the event started at 6:45 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. Last year, the local events raised $1.7 million. The National Capital Area Chapter hopes to raise $2 million this year.

Since the national society was founded in 1949, it’s invested more than $483 million for research specifically targeting blood cancers.

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 were attributed to leukemia in 2005.

Lymphoma is a general term for cancers that attack the lymphatic system and come in two forms, non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin. About 66,674 Americans will be diagnosed with a form of lymphoma in 2006, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.