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September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month in Harford

From left, Patricia Ford, volunteer with The Leukema & Lymphoma Society; Harford County Council President Billy Boniface; and Tracy Orwig, director, patient access, education and advocacy at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Maryland Chapter, extend their hands to signify the society's slogan, "Cancer Ends with Me." The county council recently proclaimed September as Blood Cancer Awareness Month in Harford.
From left, Patricia Ford, volunteer with The Leukema & Lymphoma Society; Harford County Council President Billy Boniface; and Tracy Orwig, director, patient access, education and advocacy at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Maryland Chapter, extend their hands to signify the society's slogan, "Cancer Ends with Me." The county council recently proclaimed September as Blood Cancer Awareness Month in Harford. (Photo courtesy of Leo Heppner / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

An estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are living with, or in remission from leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma, and a new case is diagnosed every three minutes. Blood cancers affect people of all ages.

At their meeting Tuesday, members of the Harford County Council joined The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in designating September as Blood Cancer Awareness Month in Harford County through a proclamation passed by the council.

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In Harford County, LLS and the Kaufman Cancer Center at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air sponsor a monthly educational support group specifically for those affected by blood cancers.

Meetings are held on the second Monday evening of each month at the Kaufman Cancer Center and include speakers, demonstrations and discussion. If you would like to attend one of these meetings, call 443-643-3350.

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A major event for LLS is the Light the Night Walk. This year the walk takes place on Oct. 25 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. More information about this annual walk is available online at http://www.lightthenight.org. Anyone interested in joining the Moonlit Mission Team based in Harford County, can call Ford at 410-569-0006.

The Moonlit Mission Team is offering two awareness events in Harford County including a raffle with multiple prizes donated by many local businesses. The awareness events are scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 13, at the Abingdon Giant on Emmorton Road in Abingdon, from 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and on Saturday, Oct. 4, at JoAnn Fabrics, 615 Baltimore Pike in Bel Air.

The most common blood cancers are leukemia, lymphoma (both non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma) and myeloma.

They are called blood cancers because these cancers involve abnormalities in the blood cells, the lymphatic system, which includes the lymph nodes, and/or the bone marrow, the spongy center of the bone where blood cells develop.

Each type of blood cancer is a different disease, and there are many different sub types of leukemia and lymphoma.

The precise type of blood cell involved and other factors determine the type and sub type and treatment. Less common illnesses that are classified as blood cancers include myelodysplastic syndromes and myeloproliferative neoplasms which involve abnormal blood cell production and/or the inability of the bone marrow to function normally.

There are no routine screening tests for blood cancers, and many of the symptoms of blood cancers can occur with other illnesses, Ford explained.

Therefore, it is important to be aware of symptoms that could indicate a blood cancer and seek the advice of a physician if they occur. Among the most common symptoms of a blood cancer are one or more enlarged lymph nodes, persistent flu-like symptoms such as fatigue or coughing, fever, excessive sweating (especially at night), bone pain, skin irritation, paleness, bruising easily or unintentional weight loss.

Generally, the causes of blood cancers are not known. However, some studies have suggested a link between one or more types of blood cancer and exposure to chemicals such as benzene, or environmental exposure such as to ingredients in pesticides or herbicides. Other potential causes could be a suppressed immune system or exposure to extraordinary radiation.

LLS has provided over $1 billion in research funding, and has been involved in the development and enhanced availability of new treatments. Many of the treatments for a specific blood cancer have later been used to treat another type of cancer or even some non-cancerous diseases. Much progress has been made in treating patients with blood cancers, with survival rates for some forms of blood cancer having doubled or tripled, and in some cases quadrupled, since LLS was founded in 1949.

However, many blood cancers remain incurable and require ongoing treatment with very expensive medications. For those patients hope for continued remission and concerns about the ability to afford treatments are facts of life.

Even with the progress, someone in the United States dies every 10 minutes from a blood cancer, and more than one third of blood cancer patients will not survive five years. We can help to change that by supporting funding for research that leads to cures.

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For those touched by any of the blood cancers, LLS offers many education and support services. These services include educational support groups, free teleconferences and booklets.

In addition, LLS offers financial assistance for co-pays for patients with financial need. There are also programs that match newly-diagnosed patients with trained volunteer survivors and help children being treated for cancer to transition back to school. For more information about blood cancer or any LLS program, visit http://www.lls.org/md or call The LLS Maryland Chapter Office at 1-800-242-4572.

The writer, a Harford County resident, is a non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor, nurse and volunteer for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. She is also the captain of the Moonlit Mission Team for the LLS Light the Night Walk.

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