Last night, in a sea of red, white and gold lanterns, I hoisted my first public cancer flag, a white lantern for patients and survivors, and walked with thousands of others in the fight to end blood cancer.
The tears welled up as soon as I arrived at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto and felt the emotional power– the power of so many people gathered to fight for me, and for the 21,000 of us who are diagnosed with blood cancers every year in Canada.
We were walking with cancer, walking post-cancer. We were walking for someone, walking with someone, walking in memory of someone. Everyone felt a connection to the fight, and showed up in droves on a night that the Blue Jays were playing a pivotal game against the Kansas City Royals. Lots of Blue Jays caps in the crowd. It felt like that win was for us.
Before the march started a young dad named Paul got up on stage and told his leukemia story – a story about his shocking diagnosis (we all got one) and the immediate toxic rigmarole that followed. Paul did research and found a gold-standard, less toxic drug that was being used to treat his kind of cancer, but wasn’t available in Ontario - not covered by our Government. He and his doctor fought like crazy until they got him the drug. His doctor is Rena Buckstein at the Odette Cancer Centre at Sunnybrook. Rena’s my doctor too. It’s overwhelming and hugely comforting to know she’s willing to fight the big fights. For me. For us.
A ribbon was cut and we moved through a narrow starting gate, banging up against each other, smiling, lanterns bobbing, a river of lights flowing up University Ave. I was grateful for all the red support lanterns, but mostly I was looking at other whites lights - those with whom I share this disease.
Everyone’s here. It was the thought I’d had when I first landed at Odette. But Odette didn’t have the kids. Last night had the kids. Five year olds, nine year olds, twelve year olds, seventeen year olds with white lanterns. All of us together.
Then there were the kids who weren’t walking. As we streamed by Sick Children’s Hospital, there in the window on the top floor was a line of children waving coloured lights. Those of us with the privilege of being on the streets, at least for this moment, yelled and waved our lanterns harder and higher.
I will make Light the Night a ritual and hope that the more lights we have, the closer we will come to not needing them