The family of Iley Puloka will walk with white balloons for the third consecutive year Saturday night, and all the red and gold balloons around them will remind them again how lucky they are.
When the annual South Sound Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Light The Night Walk takes place along Ruston Way, thousands of participants will honor survivors including Iley, a feisty 6-year-old Auburn girl.
And they’ll remember friends and loved ones those diseases have taken.
“For us, now that Iley’s in remission, the walk is trying to help find a cure so another family doesn’t go through what we went through,” said Amber Snyder, Iley’s mother. “We had a goal this year to raise $3,500 and got $5,100 instead.
“We had garage sales and car washes, a bowling night and a game night. We sold T-shirts with Iley’s photo on them. When you’ve seen results, you want to help fundraise.”
When the walk begins, everyone participating will carry an illuminated balloon. White balloons are for survivors. Gold balloons are in remembrance of those who’ve died. Red balloons are for those supporting the L&L Society.
Over the 13 years the walks have been held in Seattle and Tacoma, more than $700,000 has been raised.
Cary Campen has seen the result of the research that money helped fund, and he and his Puyallup family will walk tonight. Their balloons will be gold.
“Our son Dallin was 9 when he was diagnosed with leukemia,” Campen said. “He was high risk, and there was only one chemotherapy available to him, but that worked for 31/2 years.
“The leukemia came back, and another chemotherapy worked. A few years later, another new chemo was there, and Dallin was just the third person to ever try that drug.
“His life was extended eight years by research, and Dallin got to be a senior in high school for three weeks. We were able to build a lifetime of memories,” Campen said. “Research was the difference.”
Virtually all the families of leukemia and cancer victims tonight will share the memory of learning someone they love had the disease. No matter what the outcome, those moments don’t fade.
“It was devastating, this beautiful little 3-year-old girl being diagnosed with leukemia,” said Iley’s grandmother Laurie Reynon. “It sounds funny to say about a little girl, but she’s a fighter. From day one, it was amazing to see her get through it. A few times it was iffy.”
Like Iley’s family, the Campens found their lives tied to how Dallin was doing at any given time.
“For the periods of remission, Dallin got to be a normal, average kid,” his father said. “He didn’t want big events; he just wanted to be a regular kid. Those three weeks of his senior year, that was a highlight for him.
“When he was 15, he and I went on Scout camp-out in New Mexico and our troop climbed Mount Baldy there. He and I walked the last 100 yards together and had our picture taken at the top. I’ll never forget how close we felt.”
In October 2011, Dallin died at age 17, survived by three older siblings, his father, and his mother, Ginger. Tonight, the family will be joined by some of Dallin’s Franklin Pierce High School friends and by Campen’s mother, who survived breast cancer.
“The last three years are nothing I’d wish anyone to go through, and it is difficult to explain unless you have,” Campen said. “Last year, we weren’t able to walk, emotionally. This year, yes.”
The Campens will have raised close to $1,000 by tonight, he said.
Iley, an outgoing, photogenic girl, will be honored before the walk tonight and has become a poster child — literally — for the South Sound walk.
“We were having a car wash a few weeks ago and a Pierce Transit bus drove by and there was her picture on the side of it,” Amber Snyder said. “We all started cheering.
“Iley loves being the center of attention, but she’s a fighter, too. She has three older brothers, but she’s probably the toughest of the four. Once a month, we still go to the doctor to have her blood drawn and tested.”
She doesn’t complain. Iley has seen all those gold balloons three years running.
South Sound Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Light The Night Walk
When: Ceremonies begin at 5 p.m. Saturday; the walk begins at 7.
Where: Ruston Way, starting near The Lobster Shop.Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 larry.larue@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/larue