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updated: 10/18/2012 8:05 AM

Naperville boy's battle with leukemia inspires family to walk

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  • Joseph Wisniewski of Naperville with his sister, Amanda, hoped for a cure so no one else would have to die from leukemia.

      Joseph Wisniewski of Naperville with his sister, Amanda, hoped for a cure so no one else would have to die from leukemia.
    Courtesy of Patti Wisniewski

  • Joseph Wisniewski of Naperville died from acute myeloid leukemia in 2003, about two years after his diagnosis. His family walks in his honor each year in the Light the Night Walk to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

      Joseph Wisniewski of Naperville died from acute myeloid leukemia in 2003, about two years after his diagnosis. His family walks in his honor each year in the Light the Night Walk to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
    Courtesy of Patti Wisniewski

  • Light the Night Walk participants carry balloons to show their support for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Red balloons are for supporters, white balloons are for survivors and gold balloons are in memory of lost loved ones.

      Light the Night Walk participants carry balloons to show their support for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Red balloons are for supporters, white balloons are for survivors and gold balloons are in memory of lost loved ones.
    Daily Herald File Photo

 
 

Patti Wisniewski lived on a roller coaster for two years as her son, Joseph, battled leukemia.

They were locked into the ride when ear infections, bruises and lethargy led to a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia. They climbed hills of chemotherapy and stem cell treatment, uncertain of what lay ahead, and celebrated the thrilling rush of remission only to face new lows when Joseph relapsed.

Ultimately, the disease was too much for Joseph's 10-year-old body.

Wisniewski on Saturday will walk in solidarity with thousands whose lives have been changed by blood-borne cancers.

The Light the Night Walk -- stepping off at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, in Elmhurst -- supports the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by raising money to fund research into treatments as well as programs to assist patients and their families.

During the walk, each participant carries a glowing balloon. Supporters carry red balloons. Survivors carry white balloons.

Those like Wisniewski who are walking in memory of a loved one carry gold balloons and the hope that each dollar raised brings us closer to a cure for those still fighting the disease and those yet to be diagnosed.

Today Wisniewski of Naperville shares Joseph's story and her motivation for finding a cure.

Patti Wisniewski

In early 2001, my son, Joseph, became ill with repeated ear infections. They weren't typical for him, but we didn't worry much at first. By mid-February, he had gone from one ear infection to the next; from being happy, healthy and active to being a very sick child. He didn't have an appetite and started bruising.

We called our pediatrician, who told us that boys will be boys and they get bruised from time to time. We knew this wasn't the case for Joseph. All he ever wanted to do was lie on the couch and sleep. We insisted that he have some blood work.

In late February 2001, our nightmare began. Joseph had leukemia. He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

Joseph was admitted to the hospital in critical condition that same day. Nobody was sure whether he would make it. Well, he did, and even went into remission after the first round of chemotherapy. He finished his six rounds of chemotherapy and things were looking up.

When we first learned about Joseph's disease, information was hard to find. That was when I heard about the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. LLS provided written materials that not only explained Joseph's disease and his treatments, but also gave us suggestions about what questions we should be asking. The resources they gave us helped us make informed decisions.

The following February, Joseph relapsed. This time, he had a stem cell transplant. Again, he went into remission quickly. We were so excited.

In January 2003, we learned that Joseph had relapsed again, and that this time his body was too weak for more treatments. We were losing our little boy.

Joseph lost his battle with cancer at midnight on Feb. 21, 2003.

When we told Joseph there wasn't anything else that could be done, he took a few minutes to gather his thoughts, turned to his doctor and said, "When I get to heaven, I will email you with the cure so that no other child has to die from this stupid disease."

He knew the cure would come too late for him, but he didn't give up the dream.

In that spirit, we joined the Light the Night Walk 10 years ago. We want to make Joseph's dream come true. We walk to honor his bravery, to celebrate his strength and to remember his life. Joseph was not afraid of dying, but he was afraid that he would be forgotten. This year, he is the LLS Remembered Hero for the Light the Night Walk.

Our team is named Luna, after Joseph's favorite stuffed toy cat. He had Luna his whole life. She went with him to all his appointments, treatments, hospital stays and even surgeries. She was his faithful companion. Team Luna intends to keep walking until the day we can say we have found the cure.

You can help us make Joseph's dream for the cure come true by visiting pages.lightthenight.org/il/WSuburbn12/PWisniewski.

For information, visit lightthenight.org/il.

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