Kaylahni Laboy Gets Cancer-Free Diagnosis Two Days After THON
Just two days after dancers sat at THON 2015 Sunday evening, Four Diamonds child Kaylahni Laboy celebrated a milestone of her own: She was officially cancer-free. An MRI on Monday was shortly followed by the most exciting news of Kaylahni’s life on Tuesday.
Kaylahni’s battle with cancer was ingrained in her childhood from as early as she can remember. When Kaylahni’s mom, Kiara, brought her four-month-old daughter to a local hospital in Lancaster, the doctors originally thought she had meningitis. However, after her symptoms grew more severe, Kaylahni was flown to Hershey Medical Center and into Penn State’s care.
“When my daughter was diagnosed, I didn’t even know where Hershey was,” Kiara said, remembering the frightening hours when she was separated from her daughter in an unfamiliar place. Later that day, doctors found a tumor on Kaylahni’s brain.
After many tests, Kaylahni was diagnosed with ependymoblastoma, a rare form of brain tumor. With a 50 percent survival rate, the aggressive tumor that took over the young girl’s life seemed unfathomable. However, the Laboys knew that they would fight together. Despite their persistence, Kiara and her husband were concerned about their financial state.
“We were worried we would have to split up our family in order to provide for both of our daughters and support Kaylahni through this,” recalled the now 25-year old mother. That was when one of the family’s social workers, Greg, told them about the Four Diamonds Fund.
“When Greg told us, ‘whatever insurance won’t cover, we’ll pick up,’” said an appreciative Kiara, “we couldn’t even believe it…it was almost incredible.”
In 2010, the Laboys participated in their first THON in the hospital through a livestream. “And we thought Penn State was just a football team,” laughed Kiara. She could not speak highly enough about the fund and how it provided help with transportation, food vouchers, and monetary aid when Kaylahni’s dad took time off from work to be with his daughter.
The Laboys attended their first THON in 2011 and were paired with Delta Gamma and Sigma Pi in 2012. Kaylahni was almost three years old, and her hair was starting to grow back. Since the beginning of their relationship, Kiara says that their partnership with the orgs was, “the best thing ever…since 2012, everyone has been constantly involved and even those who graduated have found a way back,” specifically referencing one of Delta Gamma’s 2012 dancers, Rachel, who ran in the Hope Express this year. Nicole Isern, Delta Gamma’s THON Chair and 2015 dancer, calls Kaylahni “Delta Gamma’s little miracle,” and said that she would not have made it through THON weekend without the Laboys’ support.
Reflecting back on THON 2015, the mother of two proudly said, “My girls wanted to be on the floor all weekend. I had to fight with them to do anything else.”
Her favorite THON memory is seeing her daughters giggle and interact with students during water gun wars and, this year, silly string — which required an extra stop at Walmart on the way home from THON. However, Kiara notes that her most treasured moment each year is watching as the ‘Where Are They Now’ segment gets longer as the list of survivors grows. Next year, she can’t wait to see Kaylahni in that video.
Before turning one year old, Kaylahni underwent six months of rigorous chemotherapy, which prevented her parents from throwing her the first birthday party that they wanted to. This year, they are planning a party for April that serves to recognize not only a birthday, but also a celebration of her life.
“We love THON more than Christmas,” gushed Kiara. On Monday, Kaylahni went to school decked out in her THON t-shirt, bow, and pin, and tried her best to tell her Kindergarten class what she experienced. But much like the rest of us, she found it difficult to put the weekend into words. In the future, Kaylahni dreams of becoming a gymnast, and, although her vision was affected by her surgeries, the family has hope that the miracles and persistence that helped Kaylahni fight cancer will stay with her for the rest of her life.
“This journey took a toll on everyone. In our eyes, this was meant to happen because it matured us as parents, and introduced us to so many amazing people,” said Kiara. In a statement that brought her to tears, Kiara mentioned that if she could say anything to Delta Gamma, Sigma Pi, and the rest of the Penn State community, it would be, “A simple thank you. The love that they showed to my kids is indescribable.”
The Laboys see this love the most during THON weekend, although they know it is ever-present. “When I see the dancers those 46 hours, it’s when I know the most that they love my children. When they sit there and tell me, ‘I’m ok,’ when I know they’re not, and yet they stay there for my kids is unbelievable. I never get tired of telling them how thankful I am and the difference that they have made in my life.”
Photo: Kiara Laboy