Almost as soon as he was initiated into UF’s chapter of Pi Delta Psi Fraternity, Christopher Abeleda had a solemn announcement for his fraternity brothers: He was leaving.
Last Spring, the 22-year-old UF psychology senior received chemotherapy treatments for his Ph-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia. His bone marrow was making faulty or too many blood cells, he said.
“It was tough, but for me, it wasn’t the end of the world,” he said.
A semester later, on Wednesday night, Abeleda joined a crowd of about 300 people as they slowly walked through UF’s campus to honor those who have died from cancer and to raise money for research.
The event, Light the Night, was hosted by Pi Delta Psi and the American Medical Student Association, raising at least $30,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
As members of the group held colored lanterns symbolizing death, remission and support, 21-year-old Gabriel Abreu read aloud the names of 10 cancer patients who died. The names were selected by attendees.
Abreu, the lead director for Light the Night, said he was inspired to direct the walk by Abeleda, his fraternity brother. The night he found out his friend would be leaving for the semester, he said the room was silent, and his brothers lined up to hug Abeleda.
“I trusted so much in his strength and resilience that I wasn’t really worried. It wasn’t a goodbye,” the UF mechanical engineering senior said. “It was more like a see you later.”
A red lantern, representing supporters of those who've had cancer of the blood, lights up the north lawn of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during the Light the Night walk on Wednesday night.
Ray Vista, a 20-year-old UF architecture sophomore, gets splashed by a bucket of water overhead during the Light the Night event, which raised money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, on the north lawn of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. "(It's) refreshing cold, but it's for a good cause," Vista said.
Tan Ho, a 22-year-old UF biology senior and the president of the Health Educated Asian Leaders, laughs while his head is shaved during the Light the Night event on the north lawn of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Wednesday night. Ho and two other HEAL members volunteered to stand in solidarity with those going through chemotherapy treatments after HEAL raised the most money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Krista Grajo, the culture chair for the Filipino Student Association, folds a parol, a Filipino lantern symbolizing hope, light and the Star of David, during the Light the Night event on Wednesday near Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. "I'm just happy to participate in an event that raises awareness," the 19-year-old UF psychology sophomore said. "Any research is appreciated."