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She helps light the night

October 05, 2006|by JANET HEIM

Editor's note - There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like...

Suzie Menard



Age - 42.

Occupation - Global services project manager for salesforce.com.

Hometown - Waynesboro, Pa.

Where would you see Menard? - Menard is chairperson for Hagerstown's first Light the Night Walk for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. It is the society's signature fall fundraiser and is making its debut in Hagerstown a year earlier than planned.

On Friday, Oct. 6, walkers with a minimum of $25 in pledges will take to the paved path at Fairgrounds Park. They will carry lighted balloons - white for leukemia and cancer survivors, red for supporters.

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"It's pretty amazing to see," Menard said.

She said the event will be family-oriented with Sunshine the Clown, face painting, a Moon Bounce, music provided by a local radio station, a tethered hot air balloon and food.

Menard got involved with The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society about eight years ago when she was living in Ellicott City, Md. She received a mailing from the society asking people to consider running a marathon to raise money.

While Menard had no interest in running a marathon, she was curious enough to attend the meeting about it. After hearing a speaker describe how her son, Nicholas, was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2 - the same age as Menard's son was at the time - Menard was hooked.

Menard, who admits she's no athlete, began collecting pledges. With the support of friends who would meet her for early morning runs, Menard trained for the marathon that was held in San Diego.

Since then, she has run in two other marathons, four half marathons and a triathlon and raised about $30,000.

Menard is part of the small percentage of supporters of The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society whose family has not been touched by the diseases. Most volunteers get involved after a friend or family member has battled leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma.

"It's a nice way to remember people," Menard said of the events.

She said people ask her why she goes to the hard work of training for the fundraising events, but she has a different perspective.

"I have the easy job. The people battling the disease have the hard part," Menard said.

She said it's hard not to be moved to action after learning that leukemia is the No. 1 disease killer of children and young adults under the age of 20. It's not any easier for her to hear that 11 times as many adults are stricken with the disease as children.

Menard and her family, including husband, John, and son, Jacob, who is now 10, moved to Hagerstown last August from Mount Airy, Md. She had agreed to help organize a Light the Night Walk in Frederick, Md., with the goal of having a walk in Hagers-town in 2007.

Planning began in January for the Oct. 14 Frederick walk. Menard asked Mark Harrell, who works with Menard's husband at Hagerstown Trust, if he would be the corporate chairperson.

Harrell's brother-in-law was Art Richards' stepson. Richards died in May after a 10-year battle with leukemia.

Connie Richards, Art's widow, agreed to serve as corporate co-chairperson with Harrell, but only if the event was held in Hagers- town, so planning for a second walk began in late August. There will be a total of eight Light the Night Walks in Maryland this year, Menard said.

Menard knew it would be quite an endeavor to pull together a major fundraising walk with such short notice, especially since The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has not previously had a presence in Washington County.

A date and location were selected and Menard has been amazed by the community support, both from businesses and individuals.

Menard said the planning committee has managed to get businesses and individuals to donate everything from food to supplies, which means 100 percent of the money raised will go to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Money raised in Maryland stays in Maryland, Menard said.

An ambitious goal of 500 walkers and $50,000 raised has been set. Menard said that's about the number of walkers that walk in the Howard County walk that has been going on for years. So far, there are about 200 walkers in 15 teams signed up for the Hagers- town walk.

Menard said she couldn't do it without the support of her husband and son. Jacob, who goes to St. Mary's School, has already raised $800 by sending out letters to friends and family, inviting them to join him in the walk or to make a pledge.

Menard said just about everyone she talks to knows someone who has been touched by leukemia or lymphoma. She said The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society provides many services and support for families dealing with the diseases, as well as research that extends to other cancers.

"Every five minutes someone is diagnosed with leukemia. Every 10 minutes, someone dies with a blood cancer," Menard said. She is happy to report that Nicholas has been in remission since he finished chemotherapy in 1998 and as far as she knows is a healthy 13-year-old.

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