On Sunday, October 7, as the sun went down over a popular Cleveland park, crowds gathered as Adam Andolina, chair of this year’s Light The Night event, helped ready them to turn on their lanterns. It’s the part of the event from which Light The Night, a fundraising effort to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), draws its name. And for Andolina, it’s a bittersweet moment.

Shining a Light on Cancer

Those who’ve lost loved ones to leukemia and lymphoma turn on gold lanterns, while those who are supporting someone dealing with the blood cancers have red. But the toughest moment, yet Andolina’s favorite, is when the last group turns on their white lights. The bright, white lanterns are reserved for cancer survivors. Andolina’s now seven-year-old daughter, Gianna, carries hers high.

“For her, it’s just this cool sight to see all the lanterns glowing,” says Andolina, SVP, Senior Procurement Manager in the Cleveland-area KeyBank offices. “But for me and my wife, Julie, it reminds us of what our family went through when Gigi was diagnosed and then went through treatment for leukemia. It was the toughest 800 days I’ve ever experienced – Gigi was only three years old.”

Tapping into Colleagues for Support

For the past two years, Andolina has been donating his time and talents to the Light The Night event, including drawing on his colleagues at KeyBank for support. At this year’s event, over 100 Key employees contributed to the effort in some way, including attending Light The Night and raising over $50,000 for LLS.

Tallying all the contributions, this year’s Cleveland-area event will raise around $1.1 million for LLS and their mission to provide patient support services, advocating for lifesaving treatments and pioneering promising cancer research.

Andolina’s grateful to be a part of the effort. In his words, “I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what our family went through. But the reality is that families are dealing with this every day, and whatever I can do to help make it just a little bit easier, I’ll do. That’s why I got involved with LLS.”

Gigi’s Journey

For the Andolinas, the first sign that something wasn’t quite right came in 2014 when Julie took Gianna (“Gigi” to her family and friends) to the hospital for a lingering fever. After running various tests, doctors confirmed the diagnosis – leukemia.

“I still remember that day clearly,” recalls Andolina. “I was driving back from New York with my older son, Joey, and my wife called to tell me the news. I was stunned. For the next month my wife and I pretty much lived at the hospital while Gigi was receiving her treatments.”

At the hospital, members of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society were on hand to provide help – guiding the Andolinas through what was happening and providing comfort during their especially challenging days.

Gigi’s initial treatment went well enough so that she was able to go home – but the treatment protocol meant that she still received medication for two-and-a-half more years. The Andolinas feel fortunate that Gigi’s treatments ended, and she was declared cancer-free, just a week before she started kindergarten.

Honoring Survivors

Today the second grader attends the Light The Night events with her dad – and joins in the survivors’ circle with her white lantern raised into the air.

“It’s amazing to be able to do something that has such an impact on so many,” says Andolina. But there’s one person whose praise he values above all others – Andolina recalls his daughter talking about his involvement in Light The Night, where he helped organize the project behind the scenes and acted as emcee at the event. “She told me she was very proud of her dad, which meant a lot to me.”

Andolina plans to continue supporting LLS. Beyond his involvement in Light The Night, he’s now part of the Northern Ohio Chapter of LLS, as well.