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Cedarville professor Dr. Mark Caleb Smith on a television newscast.

Students Walk to Fight Leukemia for Classmate

by Kathryn Sill, Public Relations Writer

Nearly seven weeks after marrying her college sweetheart, Julia Gardner, a first- year professional pharmacy student at Cedarville University, was diagnosed with pre-B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

This summer, Gardner, a native of Dayton, began to notice symptoms of exhaustion, dizziness and a lack of color in her face. The symptoms led her to visit her doctor, who ran a series of blood test that showed a diagnosis of leukemia. In August, Gardner began chemotherapy treatments at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

When her classmates received the news of Gardner’s diagnosis, they began to rally around her by praying in chapel and giving money to help meet financial needs.

Another way Gardner’s classmates are encouraging her is by forming a team to walk in the Light the Night event in Kettering, Ohio, on Thursday, Oct. 1.

Light the Night is a fundraising event for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which helps raise funds to aid cancer patients in their fight against the disease, as well as help fund research to find a cure.

Katie Distel, a first-year professional pharmacy student from Findlay, Ohio, heard about Light the Night from Roscoe Smith, associate vice president of university admissions, himself a leukemia survivor who has walked in the event.

“There is no better place than Cedarville University to rally around you when facing life-threatening challenges like leukemia,” Smith said. “Knowing that people all across the country were praying for me helped strengthen my faith to face the challenges with calm and confidence. I'm certain Julia is experiencing the same.”

As class president, Distel has spearheaded an effort to have Gardner’s classmates participate in Light the Night. A total of 12 Cedarville students have already committed to attend and walk a two-mile course.

For every $100 a team raises it is given a lantern with a color symbolizing a group affected by cancer. White lanterns honor survivors and research, red lanterns honor current patients and yellow lanterns are in memory of those who have lost their fight with the deadly disease.

Gardner’s classmates have set up their own Light the Night page where people can donate, sign up for the team or learn more about her fight.

All donations for Light the Night will go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Donations can be made directly to Gardner to help with medical bills by visiting her page on She has also set up a page on to keep friends and loved ones up to date on her journey.

Another way that her classmates are supporting her financially is through purchasing T-shirts that were designed by her family. The shirts, which are on sale at, say “Fight for Julia” on the front with “#YaGirlKicksCancer” on the back.

“Julia’s blood counts have risen since she first went to the hospital and her immune system is starting to improve, but she will continue to undergo chemotherapy treatments for the next two and a half years,” Distel said. “The best way that our university and community can support her and her husband during this time is through donations, prayer and support.”

As of Sept. 17, Gardner is now in remission after her bone marrow results showed less than 0.01% cancerous cells. Gardner has been released home where she will continue at home chemotherapy treatments, but she will still make weekly trips and some overnight stays at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist institution with an enrollment of 3,711 undergraduate, graduate and online students in more than 100 areas of study. Founded in 1887, Cedarville is recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, strong graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings and leading student satisfaction ratings.

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