Light the Night: A Walk to Cure Cancer


Community High students join other Ann Arborites for a walk to cure cancer.

Eve Kausch and Hannah Hesseltine

On Jan. 28, 2008, Community High School’s Anne Thomas received a phone call: “Your daughter has leukemia.”  Shocked, terrified, and worried beyond belief, Thomas and her daughter, Emma Rubenstein, rushed to the emergency room, thinking that a mistake must have been made.

Emma was twelve years old at the time.

Looking back on her daughter’s battle with blood cancer, Thomas remembered her strength: “She’s an amazing kid. [She’s] such a fighter, not a complainer. [I] can’t even imagine going through that myself.”

But after a year and a half of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, Emma died on Aug. 11, 2009.

“It’s a loss that I just don’t know that I’ll ever get over. I will learn to live with it, and I do live with it, but losing a daughter is just huge…I would never wish that on anybody,” Thomas said with tears in her eyes.

Every year since Emma’s death, Thomas’ family and forum has participated in The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk to celebrate and remember her. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society hosts walks all over the country to fund treatments to cure patients suffering from blood cancers. On Oct. 12, 2013, the Ann Arbor community came together at the DTE Edison Center to support today’s leukemia and lymphoma patients, to celebrate their survivors, and to remember those they’ve lost.

In order to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s research, Light the Night participants can create teams to fundraise and spread awareness for their cause. For the past five years, Thomas and her family have walked with the team they created in Emma’s memory: Team Emma. Rianna Johnson-Levy, Thomas forum member and close family friend, was the captain of Team Emma. After Johnson-Levy graduated from Community High School this past June, Thomas’s daughter Hannah Rubenstein rose to the challenge and served as captain for her sister’s team.

As captain, Rubenstein spearheaded the fundraising campaign for Team Emma. Within her first week at Community High School, she stood up in front of a sea of unfamiliar faces—her forum, the Strassel forum—and spoke to her passion for this cause, immediately getting the whole class involved.

Although Quinn Strassel was out on paternity leave for two weeks, his forum was still busy at work. The students organized a bake sale that raised over $260, while Thomas’s forum started a bucket drive, traveling to other forums across the school and asking for donations of small pocket change and bills; the Thomas forum raised over $550 from both students and parents.

“A big portion of our forum’s actual donation was all from students, which I think is really cool,” junior and Thomas forum member, Isaac Scobey-Thal, said. “On average, every student gave to this cause, which is amazing.”

Family and friends donated money to the team as well, including one of Thomas’s past forum members, Lauren Kuperman. On Oct 7, Kuperman showed up to Community High School to give Thomas $1000 in one-hundred dollar bills that she had personally fundraised for Team Emma.

“It just really blew me away,” Thomas said. “She’s the kind of girl who would set a goal for herself and try to achieve it. And the goal for herself was to raise $1000.”

Together, Team Emma raised over $7500, and the Walk itself raised a total of more than $75,000, most of which will go to cancer research.

The evening of Oct. 12, hundreds gathered on the corner of Main and William. Festivities beforehand included team photos, a dance party warm up, and speeches. Team Emma was honored as the top team during the initial ceremony, having raised the most money out of the Ann Arbor chapter. The whole team, including Strassel’s and Thomas’s forums, crowded the stage and accepted a check of $7,500 on the behalf of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Balloons of different colors were handed out to survivors and supporters. Past or present survivors of leukemia or lymphoma held white balloons while supporters held red, and those who had lost someone to leukemia or lymphoma held gold balloons. Each balloon had an LED light in it to literally light up the night in support of cancer patients and research.

The walk began at 7 pm. The group walked north on Main, turned east on Miller, continued South on Fourth, and finally turned west on William to finish at the corner of Main and William. It measured just under a mile. Afterwards, music was played and people danced; many Community High students joined the celebration.

“It was so much fun,” Scobey-Thal said.  “It was cool to see this huge group that was supporting this one cause take downtown.”

“This really is just another example of the power of forum,” Quinn Strassel said. “I think it’s also just the spirit of the school that we want to do things that serve our community and serve the people that we love, and so this was kind of both of those things put in one, where our students are serving the community but we’re also serving the people that we love in our building.”

The Light the Night Walk of 2013 was a huge success. Survivors were honored, those lost were remembered, and Community students helped the Leukemia & Lymphoma society raise thousands of dollars. Community High School students supported the Thomas family in remembering Emma.