Go State. Beat Cancer.

One day we’ll dance in celebration. Until then, we dance for a cure.

Photo courtesy of THON.org /Ana Elmasllari

Photo courtesy of THON.org /Ana Elmasllari — this is what THON looks like in its final hours (2014, Bryce Jordan Center)

It’s so hard to put how I feel about THON into words, but I’m going to try. It won’t be short, but I promise you it will be important. Thanks for reading.

WHAT IS THON?

The Penn State University IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (or THON, as it is referred to) is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. I’m going to say that again: largest student-run philanthropy IN THE WORLD. Over 15,000 Penn State Students are working hard at this very moment to put on a 46-hour dance marathon this coming weekend (February 20-22), and raise funds to help end childhood cancer.

THON began in 1973 and became affiliated with Four Diamonds in 1977. And since 1977 (the year I was born!), THON has raised more than $114 MILLION for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

THE FOUR DIAMONDS FUND/PENN STATE HERSHEY

“Four Diamonds’ mission is to conquer childhood cancer by assisting children treated at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital and their families through superior care, comprehensive support, and innovative research. Each year, Four Diamonds provides direct support to approximately 600 children with cancer – 100 who are newly diagnosed and 500 who are continuing their fight.”

Similar to St. Jude, money from Four Diamonds goes *directly* to the patients’ cancer treatments, and other expenditures that may not be covered by insurance (housing for out-of-area families, medical treatments, wigs, etc.). Imagine getting the news your child has cancer, and then a short time later learning that because of Four Diamonds, you do not need to worry about a dime. That the only thing you need to focus on is your child’s care. You don’t have to write a single check to pay a single bill. Four Diamonds will take care of all of that.

In 1996, The Four Diamonds Pediatric Cancer Research Center was founded, staffing a team of physicians and scientists to focus on learning about cancer, how it forms, and how treatments can be made more effective. This is the research needed to find a CURE for cancer – not just for patients at Hershey, but for pediatric cancer patients all across the globe.

 WHAT THON IS FOR ME

My first THON was in the spring of 1998 inside of the White Building. I came up to school to participate in the weekend, since I was home on an internship that semester. I remember standing on the bleachers with my Gamma Sigma Sigma sisters and the brothers of Kappa Phi Sigma, cheering on our girls and waiting for the grand total to be flashed on the cards held up at the end after all of the dancers sat. In 1998, THON broke a record raising over $2M for Four Diamonds.

At the end of the summer of ’98, I moved into an apartment with 5 other sorority sisters. One afternoon, my roommate J and I were outside soaking up the sun, catching up on all sorts of things and talking about life. THON came up, and each of us talked about our own experience with cancer, and I will never forget this (and I know she doesn’t either), but by the end, we were fogging up our sunglasses with tears, talking about how damn important it was for the two of us that we could possibly live in a world where cancer doesn’t exist. I still want to live in that world, and I know damn well she wants to live in that world, too.

Early hours of THON 1999 with my roommates.

In 1999, THON was moved to Rec Hall, because the White Building was just too small. What a great problem to have, right? I was a moraler for our sorority, working in 4 hour shifts, but I was there way more than just during my shifts. I remember being out on the floor with our dancers (three of whom were my roommates, and one was a captain), my friends in other organizations, and our THON family. I still remember almost the entire dance (including key lines like “fleece vests, black pants, always the best dressed.” And “the loop! The loop! The loop is on fire!”) and I remember the feeling of rounding that tough corner in the middle of Sunday morning knowing we only had a few hours left. That was about the time my girlfriend S was fading fast. All she wanted was to find the blow-up globe beach ball she had earlier. Completely lost for it, M and I got in the car and searched every WalMart/Dollar Store/Party Store in State College for one. Sidenote: it’s virtually impossible to find a beach ball in the middle of Central Pennsylvania in dead ass winter.

The last hour kicks off with one of the Overall Committee member shouting ONE MORE HOUR, and Bon Jovi’s “Livin on a Prayer,” blasts from DJ Larry Moore’s speakers. It’s as if THON just started. The energy was electric.

The final countdown to sit down is met with laughter, tears, and anticipation. A few minutes of announcing top fundraisers by organization and commonwealth campus, and we just get more excited. Finally, Overall comes out with their huge signs, and it’s revealed: $2,530,142.48. In one year. By students. For kids. Over $2.5 MILLION. Thousands of people in Rec Hall and not a single dry eye.

I haven’t been back for THON since 2001 (when I was still living in State College, and my girlfriends were still dancing in it), but I watch every year on the live broadcast (and you can too, at www.thon.org).

THON has come a long way since I last stood in Rec Hall. It very quickly outgrew the gym there, and moved to the 15,000-seat Bryce Jordan Center where last year over 700 dancers took to their feet and raised over $13,000,000 FOR THE CURE. That’s 13 MILLION DOLLARS. In one year. By students.

I implore you to visit www.thon.org for more information on what THON is.

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