Ask anyone what the most emotional part of THON is, and Family Hour will, year after year, certainly appear on that list. This year was no different as Four Diamonds families strolled across the stage at the Bryce Jordan Center and four shared their stories of their children’s battles with cancer.
The Trent Golden family took the stage after a pep talk from Bill O’Brien, and while Trent’s mother, Tammy, quipped about what a tough act he was to follow, she certainly did not disappoint. She began her story of how Trent began suffering a fever while on vacation in 2005, and after a continued period of low-grade fevers, Trent was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at Hershey Medical Center. “Real life had smacked us in the face.”
“Hershey Medical Center is a great place to have in your backyard, but you don’t want to have to go there,” Tammy said. In a whirlwind, before they knew it, the Goldens were handed a packet with information on the Four Diamonds fund, and they were paired up with Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority. Tammy expressed her gratitude and relief at the treatment from Hershey and the support from the Four Diamonds fund and ΛΧΑ/ΑΣΑ.
Following the Goldens was the Dustin Beaver family. Dustin wasof admitted to Hershey and diagnosed with renal cancer the day after Christmas. And with the treatment he received, Dustin’s cancer went into remission after only 29 days. “Research takes money,” said Dustin’s mother, “and that’s where you come in.” The Beavers were paired with Men’s and Women’s Club Lacrosse. Through their fundraising efforts, and the rest of THON’s, the Beavers were able to “keep a roof over [their]heads.”
Dustin will be finishing his chemo at the same time he finishes his freshman year of high school, in June 2014.
Also appearing on stage was Dr. Melanie Comito, a pediatric oncologist at Hershey, who also treated Trent Golden. Her daughter, Kristen, is dancing in THON this year.
The family of Emily Whitehead came next. “At this time last year,” said her mother, “we weren’t sure if Emily was ever going to make another THON.” She continued about her fear of leaving Philadelphia and going to Hershey, and marveled at the support she received from the Four Diamonds fund and THON. “You had no problem,” she said, “getting in cars and driving out in the middle of the night,” some of them missing final exams, to visit Emily in the hospital when prospects were bleak.
Emily is the first child to receive a CART-19 T-Cell transplant, a new, experimental procedure. “I’m convinced that we received a miracle,” said Emily’s dad. She has been cancer-free for nine months.
Teddy Morton was born on Christmas, and wasn’t expected to make it through his first night. And while he only lived for 127 days, the Four Diamonds fund helped stretch out Teddy’s life for as long as possible. “Teddy’s story is a story of life, not death,” said his mom. “Thank you for taking the tragedy of loss, turning it into hard work to help all these children.”
THON is filled with inspiring stories of defeating cancer, but also many of those who tragically lost their battle that has claimed so many lives. Family hour screened a video honoring the lives of the children who did not make it through to be with us today. The names of the fallen and remembered rolled by, blow by blow, and reminded us of just how horrible cancer is, and the devastation it can, and does, inflict. This was not lost on the Bryce Jordan Center crowd, who with linked arms and grieving hearts, braved through watching the extremely difficult and heartbreaking memorials.
Both kinds of stories, tragic and triumphant, forced tears from thousands of eyes at the Bryce Jordan Center, and thousands more watching the live stream of the event. It’s hard to find anywhere else where the sheer volume of pure emotion is greater.
Teddy Morton’s mother left the crowd with some extremely moving parting words that remind us why we’re all here: “You dance for a little boy who never spoke a word…who never took a step…but whose life has inspired thousands to beat cancer.”