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A Thousand "Light the Night" to Fight Blood Cancers

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 Supporters for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society packed Erie's downtown on Thursday night for the annual "Light the Night" walk.  

Erie's walk is one of 200 around the country. Since the event  started, it's raised nearly $1 billion dollars towards finding a cure for blood cancers. The walk means a great deal to many who participate.  

"If it wasn't for all these people walking and raising the money they do, I wouldn't be here today," said Chris Lehman, a six-year non-Hodgkin's lymphoma survivor. 

On Thursday night, Lehman among a thousand others, walked to help eliminate blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma.  

"When you're diagnosed with cancer, it's like being involved in a train wreck. There's a lot of turmoil and a lot of trauma, and I'm paying it forward, trying to help others through that process," said Merle Smith, a 13-year lymphoma survivor from Cochranton, He's been participating in Erie's walk every year, for the past decade. 

Those walking in "Light the Night" held lit lanterns - red for supporters, white for survivors, and gold lanterns to honor those who have died.

State Representative Ryan Bizzarro (D) is the 2014 co-chair of the walk. He is also a survivor, overcoming a form of childhood leukemia. 

"This is a cause that's very near and dear to my heart," Bizzarro said. "It's a very humbling experience. It's a blessing for me to be here right now, but to see the amount of support that this organization has, you won't see anything else like it," he said. 

Organizers say "Light the Night" walks are one of the most important research fundraising efforts for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). 

"It's important for us here in Erie because it's the only one we have locally. It's the only event we have for LLS, and people sometimes aren't aware of our services. Even those who might have been diagnosed with blood cancer," said Brenda Youmans, Erie's walk coordinator. 

Last year,  Erie's walk raised  $104,000.  All of the money stays local, goes towards clinical trials, developing cutting edge medicines, patient support, and education.    

"I think we need to let people know that it affects so many in this area. And not just this area, every area," Lehman said. "To see so many people come out - it's great, I love it." 

A balloon release before the walk also paid tribute those who've lost their lives to blood cancer. 2014 marks the 15th year for "Light the Night" in Erie. 

"It restores your faith because you know the world is really a good place, and Erie is really a good place," Lehman said. 

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