BG’s flock, the largest team that year, in its first Light the Night Walk. (Submitted photo)

‘Light the Night has changed because we now walk in victory and celebration’

Local lights the night for cancer awareness event

BG (Bernice) Gonzalez celebrates her remission Nov. 19, which also happens to be her dad’s birthday.

It’s likely the rest of her flock will embrace the day as well, as they have been by her side throughout her cancer experience.

They became her flock early on with a formal declaration during their first Light the Night.

“When I was originally diagnosed I started my treatment in July and my friend Debbie Kleu – who was one of my biggest cheerleaders and supports through my whole experience – was curious about whether or not there were any lymphoma “events” in Victoria. Debbie had said that if she didn’t find one she would organize one herself! Thankfully she found one: Light the Night put on by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada that was held at UVic that year and she signed up a team for us called BG’s flock.”

Emily Bonnett was on that largest team, carrying their homemade lanterns through the darkness in honour and support.

“Light the Night was amazing,” Bonnett said. “BG’s journey felt so specific and individual at the beginning. I often felt that because she was so young, no one else really understood how surreal or difficult the situation was. Walking together with other survivors and their support systems was both encouraging and eye-opening. I had no idea how leukemia and lymphoma could affect so many people, but I also had no idea how powerful it would be to stand up with other people and remember their fortitude through their own struggle.”

As one of the milestones and positive highlights while in treatment, BG continues to participate, as a yearly reminder of she’s been through and what others still need to go through.

“There are still 138,000 people living with a blood cancer diagnosis in Canada today. The LLSC helps fund life-saving research for different types of blood cancers and I think it’s important for me to do my part in support this research and supporting the people who are fighting against this disease,” she said.

Funds raised by participants support the society’s mission: cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.

“LLSC was instrumental in giving BG, her family, and her friends awareness before, after, and during chemotherapy,” Bonnett said. “I attended just one class on what to expect during chemotherapy and I was amazed at how personal this support was. Before Bg’s diagnosis, I wasn’t even aware of this type of cancer.”

Both women encourage people to participate, whether fundraising or supporting the survivors, learning about blood cancers, or finding a place to volunteer.

Those are among the goals of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada Light the Night, to remember the people lost and celebrate the people here still and put a face on diagnosis, said Megan Norrish, of LLSC BC/Yukon, an organizer of the Sept. 15 walk in Oak Bay.

“Light the Night has been happening for a really long time. It’s a celebration; for all of our survivors as well as a celebration for all those walking in memory, it’s a way to honour those people,” explained Norrish.

While BG’s flock was the biggest team that first year of her cancer journey, BG wasn’t comfortable in crowds, particularly of strangers. She felt too young, too thin and had lost her hair by that point.

But LLSC had already steered her in the right direction with educational opportunities. Informations such as the fact blood cancer is fourth most frequently diagnosed cancer in men and women in Canada (3131 newly diagnosed in BC annually) helped her understand the situation better. So she went to Light the Night with her flock.

“As soon as I got to the event everyone was so welcoming and kind,” Gonzales said. “All of the volunteers treated me like a normal person instead of a cancer patient and all of the survivors/fighters were holding a different coloured lantern than everyone else. There was something so powerful about holding a white lantern with a group of family and friends holding red lanterns in your support. There was something equally as powerful and connecting about seeing a complete stranger hold white lanterns beside you and although you’ve never talked with them they understood the path you’ve walked.”

White balloons are carried by survivors, red by supporters, and gold balloons are carried by those walking in memory of a loved one they lost.

“It’s an odd feeling to go to the walk [now],” BG says. “It’s a mix of the half-victory in my own life as I walk through remission, hope for others as they walk their own journey beside me, and still a fear of the unknown for others and myself. Next year I will be walking after entering full remission. I’m sure that year will be a new set of emotions and feelings that I won’t be expecting again.”

Light the Night Walk out in Oak Bay on Sept. 15 starting at 6 p.m. with a walk to Oak Bay Marina area where they will celebrate survivors and remember those lost with illuminated red, gold and white lanterns. Members of BGs Flock expect to take in one of the Light the Night Walk’s. (There are over 200 in North America and Australia)

“I continue because I can’t really express the pride and admiration I feel for my friend BG,” Bonnett said. “Every day she faced the difficulty of chemotherapy and its side effects and she had to face the fact that her goals and dreams had to be put on hold for an unknown amount of time. She handled all of this with dignity and faith. I couldn’t believe how she could encourage others through their own struggles when I felt that her struggles mattered more.

“The feeling of Light the Night has changed because we now walk in victory and celebration, especially this year as BG will be out of remission. Yet, it is also strange and bittersweet knowing so many people at Light the Night don’t get to walk in victory, but are walking through their struggle or remembering someone they have lost. It’s important for us to continue to go so those people know they are not alone.”

For more info and to sign up for the event, visit lightthenight.ca.

 

The first year the team BG’s flock made its own lanterns for the Light the Night. (Submitted photo)

With Light the Night slated for the evening, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada, hosts Blood Cancer 101 during the day Sept. 15 at Windsor Park Pavilion. (The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada photo)

Light the Night, starts Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. in Windsor Park and makes its way along scenic Oak Bay to the marina where walkers celebrate survivors and remember those lost with illuminated red, gold and white lanterns. (The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada photo)

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