Even at her lowest points, 5-year-old Izzy would coax doctors and nurses into enjoying ‘pretend’ tea parties and princess movies with her. The now 7-year-old was battling leukemia during a two-and-a-half year period at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “She never gave up,” her father, Dale F., notes. “It was inspiring as a parent because even when we were exhausted and wanted to give up, she carried us.”
Now in remission, Izzy will be an Honored Hero at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) annual fundraiser—the Light the Night Walk—at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28 in Forest Park. The event also includes a remembrance ceremony at 6:15 p.m. and a first-ever 5K run at 6:30 p.m. Dale F. says his daughter’s excited reaction to receiving the distinction was priceless. “She loves the attention, and she loves getting her picture taken, so this is right up her alley.” The giddy young girl’s whole family has formed a team to be part of the walk, which pays tribute to survivors and victims of blood cancers through symbolic illuminated balloons. “We had so many people help us and give emotional support,” Dale F. says. “This is a way to give back and support others facing the disease. These kids are the strongest kids you’ll ever meet, but sometimes even that’s not enough—they need our help.”
Proceeds from the walk will help the LLS Gateway Chapter, which fights for a cure to leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, to fund research and education, as well as improve the quality of life for patients and families.
“Light the Night shines a light on the dark world of cancer—it brings hope,” notes executive director Debbie Kersting. “And all its proceeds stay here locally to help families face the disease.” In recent years, LLS has grown its budget from $400,000 to $1.4 million, helping more than 5,000 individuals. Last year’s Light the Night Walk raised about $730,000. This year, the organization’s goal is more than $800,000. Ameren Corp. chairman, president and CEO Tom Voss, the fundraiser’s corporate chair, notes that LLS has helped quadruple survivor rates, but the statistics still continue to be unacceptable— leukemia remains the No. 1 disease killer of children younger than 20 and it strikes adults 10 times harder. He adds that last year, LLS spent more than $12 million on research, which led to the development of more drugs to help treat leukemia and other cancers.
Those drugs have helped kids like Izzy, who underwent two-and-a-half years of medical treatment to beat leukemia, but never lost her fight. “She fought tooth and nail,” Dale F. says. Now the feisty and friendly first-grader is back to her favorite hobby—swimming—which she was unable to do during cancer treatment. “She picked up right where she left off—she’s splashing and treading through that water.”