THON Family Hour Tells Stories of Triumph, Honors the 'Angels Among Us'
In June 2014, when THON child Dustin Beaver is finishing his first year of high school, he'll also be finishing his chemotherapy.
His family said they wouldn't be where they are today without the fundraising efforts of the Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon. When Dustin was admitted to the hospital, his family never had to worry about medical bills and could instead focus on his beating cancer.
"We were able to make the best of a very bad situation because of the Four Diamonds Fund," Dustin's mother said. "We are so fortunate that his body has responded to all of his medicine and that he is healthy, and look at him, he looks great."
Four Diamonds families took the stage one at a time to tell their own, unique story. They described the debilitating fear and pain upon hearing a cancer diagnosis and the elation over their child going into remission and beating the deadly – and as one family put it, lightly – crappy disease.
There was Trent Golden and his family, who went on stage accompanied by their doctor from Hershey Medical Center because, as Tammy Golden said, she has become 'like family.'
The road to remission is not an easy one. It's filled with pills, spinal taps, hospital visits and test after test. Without THON's help, there would be an added pressure – hefty medical bills.
Golden said her family never even had to pay for a Band-Aid. "Whatever your insurance will not cover, the Four Diamonds [Fund] will cover," she said.
Emily Whitehead attended THON 2013 with her family and dozens of supporters. Last year, she was in the hospital after relapsing. At the time, her family wasn't sure she would live to see another THON.
Now, she's been in remission for nine months.
"Because of your dedication, we got to see Emily smile and dance again this weekend."
Last year, Emily was moved from Hershey Medical Center to Philadelphia, where doctors wanted to perform a groundbreaking surgery for the first time, on her.
During her stay in Philadelphia, doctors told the Whiteheads they weren't sure Emily would make it through the night. When members of THON found out, they dropped what they were doing to lend their support.
"Groups of you thought nothing of jumping in your cars and driving through the night and being with Emily," her mother said. "That was mroe important to you than studying for finals. Some of you even missed finals," she said.
Emily thanked THON members for their support and cheers rang through the Bryce Jordan Center.
Some stories, though, had an alternate, devastating ending.
Teddy Morton's family said their story was one of life. A 127-day life.
Theodore Morton was born covered in colored spots. Rushed to the neo-natal ward, his parents were told he had an unusually high white blood cell count.
Gina Morton asked the doctors whether that was a sign of cancer.
"They were all silent, and I knew," Morton said.
Teddy, who was pictured smiling, his big blue eyes wide, began his chemotherapy "his third day on Earth," his father said.
"Our Teddy never made it to THON, but we're so inspired that people he never met ... would work so hard ... for kids like him," he said.
Families said the emphasis needs to be on cancer research so more families can beat the disease, and they thanked THON members for their dedication to raising the money necessary to fund everything from the new Hershey Medical Center, to research, to hospital visits and more.
Each Four Diamonds family was announced and had the chance to walk across the stage to cheers from the crowd in a full-to-capacity Bryce Jordan Center. Later, THON's 'angels' were shown on the big screen, with a message for each child lost to cancer. Groups stood together in silence, swaying back and forth, many not trying to hide their tears.
With just over one hour left until the total funds raised for THON 2013 is revealed, THON families expressed their thanks to the members who have spent all weekend dancing for a cure.
"We'll dance in celebration one day when we finally kick cancer's ass," Tammy Golden said.