Ryan McNeil gave up the lead role of “Henry Higgins” in Hickman High School’s production of “My Fair Lady” last October after being diagnosed with leukemia. Unable to avoid the limelight, the 18-year-old will lead the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Third Annual Light the Night Walk in Columbia.
McNeil will co-chair the Sept. 23 walk with Irene Haskins, a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, as they attempt to raise $50,000 to beat last year’s $40,000. The pair led a kickoff breakfast Tuesday to invite new teams. It was attended by about 30 people.
At the walk, people carry balloons, which have small lights inside, signifying hope — white for survivors who are walking and red for supporters of survivors — and walk around Stephens Lake. However, being on a team or walking around the lake is not mandatory.
Haskins only invited new potential teams to the breakfast because she hopes all 32 teams from last year will re-enter. She finds it very reasonable that each team, which is at least five people, is expected to raise $100.
Light the Night Walk raises money for blood cancer research. McNeil, a recent Hickman graduate, sees himself in an outreach position.
“I’m an advocate for the community. This could happen to anyone,” said McNeil, who has one month of chemotherapy remaining.
As survivors, McNeil and Haskins promote research.
“I’m one of the lucky people who really responded to the chemo,” Haskins said. “The treatment I received wasn’t available 10 years ago. It’s all because of the research.”
According to Haskins, of each dollar raised at the Light the Night Walk, 89 cents goes directly to research.
“It will be fun for the whole family,” said Haskins, adding that there will be music, food and activities.
McNeil said his family and friends have been his support, but he realizes not everyone is as fortunate.
“I want to volunteer because so many people have no one to turn to,” said McNeil, who plans to attend MU in the fall to remain close to doctors as well as that support system.
For more information, contact the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society at 800-264-2873.