Light the Night -Walking in Matthew's Footsteps
On Saturday, November 21, more than 85 students, teachers, and parents braved the damp weather conditions and rose to the occasion to walk through downtown Toronto with hand-crafted illuminated lanterns in support of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and their mission to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life for patients and their families. One of those families affected was that of our very own Grade 7 student Matthew Berger.
At the beginning of the 2015/2016 school year, the De La Salle community was saddened by the news that he was diagnosed with lymphoma. Over the last few months, Matthew has made regularly scheduled visits to the Hospital for Sick Children and endured a rigorous course of exhausting chemotherapy treatments. Through it all, his parents Ana and Tom, sister Valerie, and extended family were at his side. His larger family consisting of students, teachers, and parents here at De La Salle prayed for him, walked in his honour during the Terry Fox Day fundraiser, reached out to him and his family with support and encouragement, and, by example, echoed the words of Jesus in Matthew's Gospel: "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me." At the end of October, we received this news from Matthew's mother:
It is with infinite joy and the greatest happiness that Tom and I would like to share with you the miracle God has given us today. Matthew is CANCER FREE!
This is indeed great news; the end of a difficult journey and the beginning of a healing one.
As his fellow students and teachers, we wanted Matthew to know that we will continue to walk with him step-by-step through his recovery and are just as excited as he is to have him back at school and resuming the academic and extra-curricular activities he enjoys so much.
Students and their parents responded overwhelmingly to the fundraising Light the Night Walk for Matthew initiated by a group of Junior School teachers. Collectively, the Matthew's Footprints team raised over $3000 for the LLSC.
Three news outlets were on-hand to cover this community-building event. CTV and CBC sent cameras to the school and hospital while CP24's Tracy Tong followed our group with live-eye updates every half hour. Mr. Luchka told reporters, "When the kids found out Matthew was diagnosed with cancer, there was silence. Students and their parents started asking 'what can we do?' So, I gathered a couple of teachers together and said, let's do something special for Matthew. Let's light the night and walk in Matthew's name."
Grade 7 student Clare Coia told CP24 that, "At De La Salle we're all a family and it's important to keep each other close, even when one's fallen down, you have to pick them back up and keep moving forward."
The walk started on the De La Salle campus where Tania Wybenga, the Campaign Manager for the LLS, addressed the crowd of enthusiastic walkers. "This is what I love about my job the most - hearing stories such as Matthew's. It's what we do. We fund research into finding treatments and cures for blood cancers. It's an exciting time in the field right now because we're getting ever-closer to finding a cure so we can have more success like Matthew's."
After a short reflection shared by Brother Domenic, students proceeded down Avenue Road towards Queen's Park before making their way to the Hospital for Sick Children. Upon arrival, representatives from the hospital greeted the group with refreshments and words of congratulations. "Even after more than seven years working here at the Hospital for Sick Children, feel-good events like these get me every time," said Sandra Chiovitti, the Director for Media Relations at HSC. "It's why we do what we do here. Thank you for helping to organize such a great event for Matthew and his family. The De La Salle community really seems special."
The highlight of the walk was the moment students reached the finish line to see Matthew for the first time in several months. The joy of the reunion was felt by all the enthusiastic participants, and especially Matthew. He told the news cameras, "It's amazing that they all took a part out of their weekend to come do this. I guess they're all eager to see me back at school. I'm just glad to be there, too."
When asked about his journey with cancer, Matthew told reporters, "The experience has obviously been hard and there were some days when you just didn't want to wake up. But, relatively, compared to other kids in this hospital, this was a short treatment and there are kids here for three, four, even more years, so I'm just thankful this is all over now."
Ana Beltran, Matthew's mom, was visibly moved by the overwhelming expression of support for Matthew and his family. "No parent or child should go through this. We need to find a cure very soon. This [Walk] is an example of what we can do when we join together our love, thoughts, and prayers."
After Grade 7 parent Sue Dellelce presented Matthew and his family with illuminated Minecraft torches, the Bergers journeyed back to the school with the group of students and teachers where a celebratory party arranged by a handful of generous parents brought the evening to a close.
In a short speech, Matthew thanked everyone and requested that they do two things. "First, pray for all the kids whose treatment is one, two, three, four years or longer, and for those who will be spending Christmas at the hospital. The second is for everyone to remember Aristotle's words: 'It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light."
The event allowed students and teachers to express their support for Matthew and his family and celebrate his triumph over cancer. Students got to be part of an important movement that brings awareness to the community about a disease that affects an estimated 110,000 Canadians.
Individually and collectively the participants of this Walk for Matthew helped reaffirm the commitment we, as a community, have to one another.
Thank you to all teachers, students, and parents who participated and made this a truly memorable event.
Story and photos courtesy of De La Salle College and Matthew Berger.