UT is battling more than breast cancer this month.
Amidst talk of "saving second base" and a campus that's almost as pink as it is orange, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) is having its annual "Light the Night" walk to memorialize those who have battled blood cancers and raise funds for those still in the fight.
Men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin along with Bob Kesling, voice of the Vols, are co-chairing the event. Both have fought and won their own battles with blood cancers.
"I got involved after I found out I had cancer a couple of years ago, I had T cell lymphoma," Kesling said. "I just thought I had a rash on my hips, and doctors said 'don't worry about, it's just dry skin.' It wouldn't go away, so eventually a dermatologist took a sample, and I found out I had cancer."
Kesling underwent UV light therapy, and although he is certain to point out that the battle is never over, the lymphoma is currently in remission.
"You never exactly know what your next fight is going to be, but right now, knock on wood, we've got it under control," he said.
LLS asked Kesling to get involved, and he was eager to bring attention to the fight. The partnership with Martin, a fifteen year survivor of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, has allowed the two men to get to know each other better and open up about their own experiences.
"Coach Martin is just a compassionate, caring guy, he does a lot of volunteer work. When we asked him to do this, he didn't even bat an eye," Kesling said.
The event raises money from chapters across the country, and the funds raised go back to the local area. Tonight's walk will benefit those suffering in east Tennessee.
"Last year we raised $180,000 and we had about 2,000 walkers. This year our goal is $200,000, and we are anticipating around that same number of participants," Lori Friel, the local coordinator for "Light the Night," said.
LLS currently has over $250 million invested in research in the U.S. and across 10 other countries.
"The funds that we raise goes for research and patient services," Friel said. "We have financial assistance that we offer to patients, which could include our annual grant or copay assistance, as well as support groups, literature and information on treatments."
The name "Light the Night" comes from the color-coordinated, illuminated balloons that walkers carry. Those walking in support of someone carry red balloons; those walking in memory carry gold balloons; and survivors carry white balloons.
"It's very touching to see people walking, and their family members and loved ones with their balloons," Friel said.
Walkers who raise $100 or more will receive a T-shirt, the lighted balloon and food. Those walkers are called "Champions for a Cure."
"There's going to be music, face painting, a bounce house," Friel said. "...All the activities are in Circle Park. We step off from the torchbearer, then it's a 1.3 mile walk down past Andy Holt and the aquatic center."
The mile walk begins tonight at 7:30 p.m., with registration available at 6 p.m. Free parking is offered in G-10.