As she sat on a train in early August crossing over from North Dakota into Montana, Windsu Kelly started to cry.

Windsu Kelly, a cardiovascular surgical scrub nurse, shows the blanket her co-workers made for her when she was undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The UAB cardiovascular surgical scrub nurse didn’t think she would react that way as she officially completed visiting all 50 states. But two years ago it looked like one of her life-long dreams might never be realized when Kelly was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“When I came into Montana and I got tears in my eyes, I just felt so blessed that the Lord gave me that opportunity,” Kelly says. “He gave me a glimpse of mortality at a mid-life stage. It’s obviously not something I would have chosen, but it’s a privilege to have gone through it and to be able to embrace life.”

Kelly wants to support others battling the life-threatening illnesses of leukemia and lymphoma. She is participating in this year’s Light the Night Walk Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. in Regions Park. The annual event, sponsored in part by the UAB Health System, is celebrating its 10th year raising funds to aid researchers seeking cures for leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

“I’ve had lymphoma, and my father died of leukemia, so I’ve been on both sides of it,” Kelly says. “I want to do everything I can to encourage others who are going through a hard time or have difficult diagnoses to have hope. We want to find a cure for these diseases, and Light the Night is a great way to contribute.”

Surrounded with support
Kelly was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma after a biopsy in summer 2006. She had noticed an enlarging lump on the left side of her neck a few weeks before and visited Marty Heslin, M.D., a UAB surgical oncologist who ordered a CT scan.

Kelly had two masses in her anterior chest in addition to the one in her neck. Andres Forero, M.D., associate professor of hematology and oncology, quickly put a treatment plan in place that included six months of chemotherapy infusions every other week and radiation treatment as needed.

Friends, family and co-workers surrounded Kelly with support. Her fellow nurses and doctors in the cardiovascular operating room ordered and wore red bracelets that read “Do Not Be Afraid,” pitched in to cover for her at work when needed and made a quilt for her complete with inspirational messages.

“The Lord really surrounded me with terrific people,” says Kelly, whose lymphoma is now in remission.

Kelly was treated in the Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB. She says she was met with professionalism and compassion at each point in her treatment and was overwhelmed by the cutting-edge medicine available.

“I think it’s real important to realize what a great facility we have here at the Comprehensive Cancer Center,” she says. “I did not know about the extent of the facility and treatment options until I had cancer, and I’m an employee. It’s a fantastic thing we have here.”

Research ongoing at UAB
UAB has grants from The V Foundation for Cancer Research, the Cancer Research Institute, The Dana Foundation and the NIH, among many others, to study leukemia and lymphoma.

These grants would not be possible without the support of groups across the country, including the Light the Night Walk.

Anyone can walk in the Sept. 11 event, and teams are being formed at UAB. The walk is a casual walk that features walkers carrying an illuminated balloon — white balloons for cancer survivors, red for supporters and gold balloons for those walking in memory of a loved one. If you would like to walk with Kelly or donate to her team, The Lymphoma Eliminators, contact her at Donations also can be made online at or contact Cam Sabo to participate at