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Light the Night Walk goes on despite steady downpour

| Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, 2:01 a.m.
Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
Zoey Johnson (left), 19, of Belle Vernon looks over information pertaining to the evening's 'Light the Night Walk' with her grandmother Lois Johnson at Uniontown High School on Saturday, September 21, 2013. Zoey Johnson, who had battled leukemia and has been in remission for five years now, walks to support those who are unable.
Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
Brooke Dwyer, 11, (left) and her brother Cole Dwyer, 12, both of Belle Vernon, release balloons in memory of loved ones lost to leukemia and those who are battling leukemia during the'Light the Night Walk' at Uniontown High School on Saturday, September 21, 2013. Cole Dwyer, who was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) when he was 4 years old, had battled for 3 1/2 years and is now in remission and has been for the past 8 years.

Zoey Johnson said her faith in God and the support of her family helped her to win her battle with leukemia when she was diagnosed at 14.

Five years later, Johnson, a 19-year-old Belle Vernon girl who is in remission, was sharing her story at the 14th annual Southwestern Pennsylvania Light the Night Walk on Saturday night in Uniontown High School. The event was moved indoors because of a steady downpour.

“I'm a Baptist and I was always taught that everything happens for a reason,” Johnson said. “When I was diagnosed with leukemia, I knew that I would live if God needed me to live. I also knew that I wouldn't make it if that was God's plan.

“God wanted me to live so I could help other children,” she added. “I have met a few friends who have been diagnosed with cancer. I believe I was put into their lives to help them get through it and to help find a cure for the disease.”

To fulfill that mission, Johnson plans to become a musical therapist. She wants to help other children suffering from cancer, as her musical therapist did for her when she was a patient at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh.

“The musical therapist really helped me when I was in the hospital,” she said. “She would come into my room with a guitar and play songs that she thought I would like to hear. When I was upset, she would play songs that she thought would calm me down.”

A 2011 graduate of the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School, Johnson is a sophomore at Community College of Allegheny County, where she is majoring in musical therapy.

When she was 14, Johnson said, she started to get colds every two weeks in September 2007. By spring of the following year, her illness progressed to pneumonia. She ended up in Washington Hospital and was then transferred to Children's Hospital.

“I didn't know what to think when I was diagnosed with cancer,” she said. “I asked my family, ‘Why are you crying? I will be OK.' ”

When she was undergoing chemotherapy, Johnson said, she would get very sick and wanted to give up.

“But I wouldn't let her give up,” said Lois Johnson, her grandmother who adopted Zoey when she was 8. Her biological mother is Beth Huseman of Smithfield.

“She is a real fighter, and we're very proud of her,” Lois Johnson said.

Chris Omiros, campaign coordinator, said 240 people registered for Light the Night.

“We will probably only have about 200 people here tonight because of the weather,” Omiros said. “We had some teams who moved away.”

Omiros said this year's goal is to raise $80,000 to help fund research to find a cure for blood cancers. Before the economic collapse, Omiros said, the event raised as much as $120,000.

“People will always come through and open up their wallets in hard times when help is needed the most.”

Cindy Ekas is a contributing writer.

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