When former Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith and his family first started participating in the Leukemia Lymphoma Society Light the Night Walk five years ago with their son Elijah, the young boy was going through treatment, dealing with the side effects that come with the illness.
But for the second straight year the Smiths have gathered with friends, family and former teammates outside of Heinz Field to celebrate survivorship, as they do the walk with a totally different Elijah, a nine-year old filled with life and energy.
“From a parent’s standpoint to see your child go through such a hardship with cancer, and then to beat the cancer and come here and have this celebration,” said Smith. “For a lot of these families they are still in the middle of this. It’s an opportunity to rally and support each other. What LLS does for them is unbelievable.”
As darkness fell on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, the lights from the lanterns lit the way for the walk, gold ones representing those lost to the disease, red ones held by those supporting family and friends who have fought or are fighting it now, and the white ones for survivors.
“The best part of this night is it’s the one night that it’s about our patients,” said Tina Massari, executive director of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Western Pennsylvania. “This is their night. You see the white and it represents a survivor and it just takes your breath away.”
As Elijah proudly raised his white lantern into the dark night sky, nobody looked happier than his father.
“It unbelievable,” said Smith. “When you are in the middle of it you come here and are still fighting the fight. But when he gets to be a survivor, it’s more of a triumph for you than still fighting the battle.”
Smith knows he couldn’t have fought the battle without support from those within the Steelers organization, including teammates who were there for him from the moment Elijah was diagnosed with leukemia.
“This event has been awesome since we got involved back in 2008,” said
Keisel, along with
“I love this event because it raises awareness for Elijah and other people as well,” said Hood, taking part with his wife Sarah. “I love to come out here and support it and see Elijah doing well and Aaron staying so strong.”
The walk is one of the main fundraisers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, with proceeds benefitting patient and research programs. And thanks to Smith and his former Steelers teammates, it’s also a chance to bring attention and the awareness Hood spoke of to the fight.
“I don’t think we can have enough awareness,” said Smith. “I was naïve before I went through this. I don’t think another family or child should have to go through this. I don’t think we can bring enough awareness to this.”