Emotional Family Hour Brings The Bryce Jordan Center Together
Family relations director Blake Ament kicked off family hour just before 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Nothing quite compares to the feeling in the BJC during family hour, the emotional culmination of a year of effort and a weekend of dancing for the kids.
“What all of you have done all weekend and all year has led us to this point,” Ament said.
Ament then introduced each Four Diamonds Family as they walked across the stage. As the families were introduced, sections of the BJC erupted as their THON family walked across the stage. Some families drew a response from the entire BJC, including the Kayla Nakonechni family from a #TeamKayla Penn State Community. Many of the kids waved and cheered to the packed BJC, looking as strong as ever.
Four Diamonds co-founder Charles Millard then came on stage to address the spectators and dancers and applaud their efforts. “That’s an endless process and with that procession that we just had it’s a sure sign that we are in need of a cure, which you are doing, and I thank you,” Millard said to an attentive crowd.
The screens in the BJC then played the “Where Are They Now” video, celebrating the life and diagnosis of Four Diamonds kids who won the battle against pediatric cancer and showing where they are today. Sections erupted again for their families and the entire BJC cheered for each individual who defeated cancer, and even more so for those who attend or are planning to attend Penn State. The video featured pictures, videos, and quotes from each of the kids, often celebrating major life milestones. Some subjects of the video were upwards of 10 or 20 years cancer-free, showing the history and impact of THON.
Four families took the stage next to detail their fight against cancer. The first of these families was the Dominique Bigler Family. Dominique was diagnosed at age 13 and was scared out of her mind, but wasn’t going to let anyone know it. Dominique’s mother read an excerpt from Dominique’s journal, showing her daughter’s positive spirit despite the cancer she was facing. Unfortunately, Dominique passed away in 2014.
“Dominique, she’s in heaven. But I believe she’s right here with us because THON was her favorite weekend,” Dominique’s mom said. “She would often be the first one here and the last one to leave, often standing almost all 46 hours and never complaining of pain.”
The next family to share their story was the Nick Fulton Family. This was their fourth year attending THON, but their first year attending without treatments. Nick’s mother spoke of her son’s battle and how THON, the Four Diamonds Fund, and all of the volunteers make things easier and more happy.
“The smile you put on Nick’s face means the world to us,” Nick’s mother said. She pointed out Nick’s strength, despite his disease.”Nick works hard and is on the honor roll,” she said. Knowing how much he has going on, his parents asked him why he pushes himself so hard. “Mom, I have to work hard so I can go to Penn State,” Nick replied.
Next was Ashley Kaufman, who took the stage by herself to share her story. Ashey was diagnosed with leukemia, and like many Four Diamonds Kids, went right to Hershey Medical Center after she found out she was sick. While telling her story, Kaufman became emotional and unable to continue for a few seconds, but the BJC rallied behind her in encouragement.
“I don’t understand why a lot of things happen in our world, I don’t understand why cancer had to affect me,” Ashley said. She is graduating this May from YTI as a medical assistant, inspired by the doctors and nurses who treated her at Hershey.
The Ayden Gora Family was the final of the four families to share its story. Ayden was diagnosed with high-risk ILL when he was 2-years old, and though he was on stage, he still receives chemo and a slew of medications to prevent his symptoms and others to prevent the side effects. If all goes well, he’ll be done with his treatment in June.
Ayden’s mother shared a quote of her son’s with the BJC that was an inspiring close to the stories: “It’s always okay to keep trying, it’s never okay to give up. If you give up you aren’t going to help yourself, so you have to just keep trying.”
Unfortunately, not all of the Four Diamonds kids are able to be here with us today. A second video, “The Celebration of Life,” featured children who were taken from us far too soon but will long be remembered by both their immediate family and their Penn State family. Everyone in he BJC locked arms and swayed back and forth in unison as the video played — the moment of THON weekend that brings us all together and the reason we’re all here.
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