High Hopes: How a Rising Star Basketball Player’s Story is Bringing Light to the Darkness of Cancer

Each year, from September to November, thousands of illuminated lanterns light up the sky across the country as part of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night fundraising campaign – all to end cancer. For one rising star basketball player and Light The Night Honored Hero, Maurice Smith, taking steps to end cancer gave him, and so many others, high hopes for a brighter future.

When you or someone you love hears the words, “you have cancer,” it’s one of the darkest moments in your life, but The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Light The Night fundraising campaign continues to light the path to cancer cures and give hope to cancer patients nationwide. Friends, family, and co-workers form fundraising walk teams in approximately 140 communities across North America and join together carrying illuminated lanterns to take steps to end cancer – white for survivors, red for supporters and gold in memory of loved ones lost to cancer.

Nineteen-year-old Maurice Smith of Baltimore, MD, knows firsthand how receiving a cancer diagnosis can spark an indescribable feeling of determination to not only beat the disease, but also to find a way to give back so that others experiencing the darkness of cancer can find hope.

In 2015, a star player on his school basketball team at Mount Saint Joseph High School in Baltimore, MD, Maurice knew something wasn’t right when he began feeling unusually tired and noticed a lump on his chest. After an emergency CAT scan in October 2015, he was diagnosed with diffuse large B cell lymphoma – a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He underwent intense treatment right away, which came with countless hospital visits, unbearable side effects, and important time away from school and his team. But Maurice championed his teammates through his entire treatment course, even attending local games to cheer from the sidelines.

In March 2016, Maurice thought he had finally completed his last treatment, until the following September when his six-month PET scan revealed something in his chest. In January 2017, an MRI showed that the mass in his chest had grown even larger, and a biopsy confirmed that the cancer had returned.

“I had just gotten used to resuming life as a high school student, and was devastated to think that I would have to stop playing basketball again,” says Maurice. “My oncologists knew that basketball was my motivation throughout this whole cancer journey, so they allowed me to delay treatment for one month to finish the season with my team.”

In March 2017, Maurice resumed treatment. He used each setback as a way to come back even stronger. He completed his very last treatment in June 2017, and has been in remission ever since.

Later that year, Maurice was named a Light The Night Honored Hero for the LLS Maryland Chapter. He shared his inspirational story to a crowd of more than 7,000 people in attendance at his local Light The Night Walk, where he proudly carried his white lantern.

“I am so grateful that I have been able to beat this disease, and it’s an honor to participate in LLS’s Light The Night Walk to give hope to other patients and their families,” says Maurice. “I look forward to bringing light to the darkness of cancer through research and cures. We are all taking steps to end cancer.”

Today, 19-year-old Maurice and his family are still heavily involved with the Baltimore Light The Night Walk, and his mother, Tonja Alexander-Smith, is the Team Captain for “Team MaurStrong” which is one of the largest and most-spirited teams at the event.

Maurice is now a freshman at Delaware State University (DSU). Due to an injury last spring, he is unable to play basketball this semester, but he is the DSU’s Men’s Basketball Team Manager! He enjoys training with the team and has high hopes that he will be playing on the court next year when his injury is fully healed. 

LLS was founded by a family for families, beginning 70 years ago at a time when a diagnosis of leukemia was nearly 100% fatal. Now, with the development of new treatments for childhood leukemia, to today’s advances in precision medicine and immunotherapy, LLS has had a colossal impact on advancing cancer cures, and changing the way cancer is treated and the care for patients.

Through its efforts and fundraising campaigns like Light The Night, LLS has invested nearly $1.3 billion in cutting-edge research to advance therapies. Thanks to research, survival rates for patients with many blood cancers have doubled, tripled and even quadrupled since the early 1960s. Yet, despite these advances, about one-third of patients with blood cancer still do not survive even five years after their diagnosis.

To learn how you can form a Light The Night team or get involved with LLS, visit www.lightthenight.org. AstraZeneca is a proud national sponsor of LLS’s Light The Night in 2019.