Walk raises money, awareness

Light the Night unites survivors and supports research for blood cancer

By C.J. Conklin

Patrick Keal may be one of few people ever to play flag football with tubes attached to his chest, a minor obstacle he overcame while battling lymphoma last year.

Now Keal, a communications senior, can play intramural sports and attend class without relying on medical equipment, and on Saturday night he walked to recognize and support those who can’t.

Keal’s rare and aggressive form of cancer is what introduced him to the annual Light the Night walk, which he took part in for the second time Saturday in downtown Lexington. Hundreds walked to raise money to support research on leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

Participants who have personally fought cancer walked with a white balloon, those walking to support patients and survivors of cancer carried a red balloon and those honoring someone who died of cancer held a golden balloon. It’s dark by the time participants are walking, so the lit-up balloons are visible, Keal said.

“The walk is important because we raise awareness,” said Adam Mesaros, chapter president of Phi Kappa Tau, to which Keal belongs. “People stop us as we walk because they see a lot of people walking around with balloons and wonder what’s going on. When they ask us about it, we get a chance to explain to them the facts and effects of the cancer.”

Between 25 and 30 members of the Phi Kappa Tau attended the walk Saturday evening. Many of the fraternity brothers contacted family members and friends for donations to the walk and donated money themselves, Mesaros said.

Every five minutes there is a new blood cancer diagnosis, and every ten minutes someone dies of the disease, according to the Light the Night Web site (www.lightthenight.org).

On July 3, 2006, Keal checked himself into Central Baptist Hospital after experiencing immense back pains. Keal said he woke up a week later at UK Hospital not remembering the prior week or even the nurse who had been caring for him.

“Patrick was always one of the tough guys in the fraternity,” Mesaros said. “When he checked himself into the hospital because of back pains, we knew something was wrong.”

After being diagnosed with lymphoma, Keal had to stay in the hospital for four to five days every three weeks to be monitored. At the same time, Keal was a full-time student because that was the only way he could maintain health benefits.

“When Patrick was diagnosed, it kind of made us all realize that we are, in fact, human,” Mesaros said. “I mean, this could have happened to any of us.”

After the doctors brought Keal out of a weeklong coma in January, Keal entered into remission — the cancer was entirely out of his body.

His hospital visits have been reduced to once a month for blood tests. Keal said the doctors told him that his blood is as normal as it will get.

“It still sucks every time I go to the hospital,” Keal said. “I never know what the results of my tests will be until I get them back, and the whole time I’m waiting, I just hope that I don’t have to go through this again.”

In addition to fundraising, the Light the Night walk gives former patients an opportunity to see their nurses and doctors again, Keal said. The same nurses who see patients at their worst now get to see them in much better conditions.

Even once he was diagnosed, Keal never gave up. He said he thought that as long as the cancer was curable, it was just a matter of time before he got out of the hospital.

“Patrick was always very adamant about not giving up, trying to be the superman of everything,” Mesaros said. “He wasn’t going to let the cancer bring him down.”