PURCHASE, N.Y. – Nearly one year after Port Chester’s William Cervinka, 6, and New Rochelle’s Savanna DiFatta, 7, were both diagnosed with leukemia, they played and laughed and smiled with their respective families and friends at the Leaukemia & Lymphoma Society’s annual Light the Night kickoff at Manhattanville College.
While not acquainted, their battles with blood cancer have paralleled each other. Both are now in the maintenance phase of their treatment, meaning they are on an outpatient basis. For William, that meant he was able to go to summer camp in June after missing a full year of school as he underwent surgery and chemotherapy.
Savanna's induction phase lasted about seven months.
After their diagnoses last September, both of their families quickly got involved with LLS through the 2013 Light the Night Walk and were chosen as honorees for the 2014 Light the Night Walk on Nov. 1 at Rye Playland.
“Putting a face to the disease makes people really realize that you got to help out and try to find better cures, and people who don’t have a cure and are still struggling,” Savanna's mother, Jennifer, said.
William's mother, Sheilagh, said LLS has helped them find services more quickly, such as Sylvan Learning Center tutoring to make up for William missing a year of school.
The other three honorees are New Rochelle’s Matthew McKay, who is battling lymphoma, and Peekskill’s Jeffrey Clark and Harrison’s Isabel da Silva Homem, both of whom lost their battles with blood cancer in 2013.
Before each walk, LLS holds a kickoff event. This year more than a dozen families gathered to offer support to one another and exchange fundraising ideas, not to mention play a kid-friendly game centered around LLS fun facts.
For Tarrytown resident Yolanda Blanco, the kickoff event is an opportunity to talk to other survivors and get fundraising ideas. She has been in remission from lymphoma for five years. In 2013, she held a Zumba class that drew 65 women. This year she is holding a gala called Cosmos for the Cure with vendors, raffles and other attractions at Core Sports in Elmsford.
Savanna was in remission within 26 days of her diagnosis, which her mother says gives her hope that treatment options will continue to improve.
“We hope that it goes even further because her treatment is for 2 1/2 years, and we hope by supporting LLS, they will shorten that time frame and find better cures for children like Savanna,” she said.