To say that THON can shape and impact the lives of thousands of individuals, especially Four Diamonds children and families, would be an understatement. Fifteen years ago, Nick Vicidomini, now a Penn State senior, learned firsthand just how big of an impact THON can have.
Vicidomini is a Four Diamonds child who will be attending his 15th and final THON. He also serves as Dancer Relations director for THON 2021.
In the summer of 2006, he initially had trouble breathing, and doctors thought he had a mild case of the flu. Another two weeks had passed after the 7-year-old Vicidomini first visited the hospital, but this time, he was told that he had bronchitis. After two more days went by, Vicidomini still couldn’t breathe well, and he was flown to Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey.
Doctors there found an 8-inch tumor wrapped around his throat, which left a breathing hole the size of a dime. From there, Vicidomini was diagnosed with Lymphoblastic lymphoma in the summer of 2006.
Lymphoblastic lymphoma is an aggressive but rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that accounts for approximately 2% of all non-Hodgkin lymphomas. It’s most prevalent in children and teenagers and is more common in men than women.
Vicidomini underwent immediate life-threatening surgery and began his journey with eight months of chemotherapy and radiation. On October 23, 2009, doctors pronounced him cancer-free, which he’s been for the past 11 years.
But that didn’t mean his diagnosis didn’t come without any challenges. Besides the obvious of having to endure the effects of treatment, Vicidomini dealt with people treating him differently because of his cancer.
“It was really tough for the first couple months just because I was young. I was a little chubby. I had lost my hair,” Vicidomini said. “Everyone who kind of saw me kind of felt bad for me, and they didn’t really treat me like a kid. They treated me like a kid with cancer, and that’s like something I had kind of accepted.”
But during his first visit to THON 2007 — which was also the first year THON took place in the Bryce Jordan Center — Vicidomini got the chance to finally feel like a kid again. THON volunteers welcomed Vicidomini and his family with open arms.
“I’m just so thankful that I’ve found this organization because that weekend was the first time I felt like a kid since my diagnosis,” Vicidomini said. “I was no longer treated like a kid with cancer. I was just treated like a kid.”
On his way home from his first THON, Vicidomini knew that he wanted to take how he felt during that weekend and make THON a part of his everyday life.
“It kind of just stuck with me, that entire weekend. It was on that car ride home, I was like, ‘I want to be able to make as many people feel the way I felt this weekend, and I want to do everything in my power to, like, give back to this organization,’” he said.
THON even had an impact on his decision to come to Penn State. Despite being heavily recruited for Division II and III basketball in high school, Vicidomini knew Penn State was the only college that genuinely felt like home to him.
Although his experience with pediatric cancer has given him a better understanding of what THON families and children endure, Vicidomini knows that while each THON volunteer’s experience is different, it brings a unique aspect to the organization.
Being the Dancer Relations Director for THON 2021 has definitely had its challenges. Because Vicidomini’s position is so event-focused, he said it’s taken a lot of reevaluating of what the Dancer Relations committee does.
While there’s a lot of focus on the fact dancers won’t be up for the full 46 hours, Vicidomini doesn’t want people to focus solely on that fact. He wants people to recognize that dancing at THON, regardless of how many hours, is more about what it symbolizes.
“I know a lot of people feel as though it’s going to be so different and it’s not going to be as rewarding, but I think the main thing to focus on is not the fact that we’re not dancing for 46 hours this year,” Vicidomini said. “Dancing is so much more than that. Dancing provides hope for families, and it just showcases the love and support that we have as Penn State students.”
Vicidomini said he wants to celebrate and honor his fellow Four Diamonds friends he’s lost along the way, as well as the friends who are cancer survivors like him.
“I want to make sure that each Four Diamonds child is remembered and celebrated for what they’ve accomplished,” Vicidomini said. “Because you know, cancer is a really hard thing to deal with and just the fact that people have been able to overcome so many different adversities, that’s the thing that means the most to me.”
Vicidomini said that he can’t wait to see how THON Weekend plays out since there are a lot of new aspects that have been added. Despite the fact that this year’s THON will be very different than previous events, Vicidomini is excited to continue the relationships he’s built in the past year beyond THON.
“What is the most important thing and the most special thing about THON is the people you meet along the way,” Vicidomini said. “I’m really, really excited to build on those relationships that I’ve made throughout the course of this past year.”