THON From a Parent’s Eyes

By Anne Tuccillo

I must admit, I regret waiting to attend THON until our son’s senior year at Penn State.  While I fully supported this wonderful student-led philanthropy for the past four years, I didn’t really “get it” until being there in person to stand up with thousands of others against childhood cancer.

Unfortunately, most likely everyone knows someone who has been touched by cancer.  The impact that the disease has on individuals and their families is devastating on many levels.  As adults, we have the maturity and intellectual capacity to understand the full scope of harm that cancer causes. Many of us can even do whatever it takes to fight the fight.  Childhood cancer, however, is an entirely different beast.  Children have not had the opportunity to mature, grow, and realize all of their dreams. As a result of their cancer, they are often robbed of precious childhood memories, experiences, and of course, their health.  I do know the one thing, however, that cancer cannot take away from these kids and their families, which is their hope.

So much of this hope is displayed in the colorful sea of humanity that occupies the Bryce Jordan Center for 46 hours during THON weekend. THON is a dance marathon during which students raise funds to support the children and their families receiving treatment at Penn State’s Children’s Hospital. Since its creation in 1972, the Four Diamonds Fund has helped nearly 4,000 children and families afford their medical care. It has also supported a diverse platform of childhood cancer research at Penn State Children’s Hospital, seeking improved treatments and cures to benefit those around the world. Four Diamonds covers 100 percent of all medical expenses related to cancer care that not covered by insurance for eligible Four Diamonds children. Because of the community’s steady and generous support, Four Diamonds has assisted 100 percent of the childhood cancer patients who have been treated at Penn State Children’s Hospital.

THON Weekend kicks off on a Friday afternoon at 6:00 pm and concludes on two days later on Sunday at 4:00 pm. Every year, a number of students are selected to be “dancers”, and they represent a diverse cross section of the student body from the main campus and the commonwealth campuses. THON is a tremendous undertaking, organized entirely by a large group of students and is executed with the precision of a well-trained army.  The amount of effort, planning, commitment, and passion is clearly evident.  There is an atmosphere of purpose, empathy, and care that floods the BJC. To me, THON represents all that is good with this generation.  As parents of college students, we often hear about things that paint college students in a bad light. Yet, THON shows the outside world a glimpse of what our children are capable of and the lengths they are willing to go to in order to help others.

This year, our son was selected to represent his fraternity as one of three dancers.  He was so honored, humbled at the daunting task of staying on his feet, awake and committed, for 46 hours.  I knew he could do it for many reasons, but mostly because cancer has affected our family for the past 2 years.  Our niece was diagnosed with ALL Leukemia at 18 months old.  To see a two-year-old child endure the endless rounds of chemotherapy, the side effects, and to witness the impact on her family is unimaginable.  So, in the eyes of our son, enduring 46 hours of standing, sleep deprivation, and the associated aches and pains was a minor inconvenience.

Collectively, when we stand up shoulder to shoulder with the Penn State community to fight childhood cancer, we affirm the hope for affected children and their families so that someday no parent or family member will have to hear the awful words “your child has cancer.”  I believe the end to childhood cancer is within reach, and I know that THON is helping to accomplish this goal.  I hope that you, too, will not put off attending this uplifting and life changing event because someday soon, there will be a cure, and THON will be able to sit down for good.