Having my kids with me on this charity walk means more to me than they will ever know. 

By Erin Zammett Ruddy
Carolyn Brandt/Getty Images

When I was 23, I was diagnosed with leukemia, and my life was saved by a brand-new drug that raised the survival rate for my form of the disease from 50 percent to nearly 95 percent. I was beyond lucky and remember thinking, “Well, I know where my millions will go someday: to cancer research.” Helping to find cures for other patients seemed like the least I could do.

Fast-forward 16 years: I don’t have those millions to donate (damn!), but I do have the ability to give my time and rally my troops. And thanks to that drug, my troops now include three healthy children, ages 10, 7, and 4. They’ve always known about my cancer, and they’ve always known that our family helps others with cancer because not everyone is as lucky as I am. We raise money, we raise awareness, and once a year we raise lanterns into the New York City sky as part of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk.

These fundraising walks are held all over the country. Survivors and patients carry white lanterns, loved ones and supporters carry red lanterns, and those walking in memory of someone carry gold lanterns. I use the lanterns to show the kids what the fight against cancer looks like. We’ve come a long way, but there is still work to be done. We look for the people carrying white survivor lanterns. But we also talk about the gold lanterns. There are still too many of those. I choke up easily at Light the Night, but I also laugh and cheer and watch my kids get their faces painted—right over the cotton candy plastered on their cheeks. Any night we can be together that doesn’t end with a heap of sweaty shin guards and math homework is always a win. The fact that we’re doing good at the same time? Insert hallelujah-hands emoji.

Of course, when I asked my 10-year-old son what he remembered most about last year’s walk, he said it was a tie between the taco truck and the guy shouting curse words outside the subway. But I know the night impacts the kids in more important ways, too. They’re growing up understanding that people get cancer, it isn’t always fair, and it’s up to people like us to give researchers the means to find more miracle drugs. They know that showing up, even at their age, matters. When a lot of people each give a little and you add it all together, lives will be saved. I’m still holding out hope that I’ll have my own millions to give someday, but in case that doesn’t pan out, I’m raising three children who will carry the torch—and the lanterns.

To Do a Walk Together

  1. Bring a stroller or scooter—even if your little one doesn’t think she needs it. Also, dole out water carefully and you’ll have fewer potty stops.
  2. Send personalized stroller asking friends to sponsor you. You’ll get a better response than if you sent out a group email or posted on Facebook.
  3. Kids aren’t up for the entire walk? Station them (with an adult) along the way with signs to cheer everyone on.