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Family Hour Reminds Us Why We THON

Family Hour is notoriously one of the most emotional times during THON, both due to the stories and the exhaustion. The Knepp, Kreider, and Maldonado families shared their stories for Family Hour 2018, representing why we THON in the fight against pediatric cancer.

“Family Hour is known to many as the most inspiring part of THON,” Family Relations Director Tommy Misiak said to introduce the families to the Bryce Jordan Center. He thanked every Four Diamonds family: “You remind us every day what we are capable of, and you motivate us to work even harder so that one day no parent will ever have to hear, ‘Your child has cancer.'”

One day we will dance in celebration. Today, we dance for the families.

Family hour started with the family procession as all Four Diamonds families took the stage, along with Four Diamonds founder Charles Millard.

Photo: Patrick Spurlock

The first family to speak was the Landon Knepp family, including Landon’s mom Katie, his sister, and his grandparents. Landon was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma in October 2014.

“Our lives have changed and will never, ever be the same as it was before cancer,” Katie explained.

Katie told the story of Landon getting a tube in his stomach and the incredible relationship they’ve formed with their doctor at Hershey Medical Center.

“It really hit me that — here’s this medicine that they’re putting in my 4-year-old baby, and the nurse has to put a gown on to give him his medication,” Katie said about Landon’s favorite nurse, Nurse Steve.

The crowd gave a huge round of applause for all of the doctors and nurses at Hershey Medical Center.

“They go big or go home at Penn State Hershey for Halloween,” Katie said. She told the story of sprinting through the hospital with a nurse so Landon could see the magic show on Halloween and have the opportunity to “just be a kid.”

Katie also said it really hit her when Landon started to lose his hair. “It was the feeling of walking around and having people — without realizing it — give you that look of pity…When we started noticing those looks, it was kind of just like we couldn’t pretend any more.”

The Knepps were paired with Zeta Psi before THON 2015, but they couldn’t attend because Landon had a surgery. Zeta Psi sent five brothers to the hospital a week later. “From that day on, our lives changed forever, for the better.” Over that summer, Zeta Psi also paired with SNAP.

Katie tells a story of once when she asked if some of the brothers could FaceTime Landon to raise his spirits. They did her one better: The next day, in a blizzard, they sent eleven brothers to the hospital.

Landon was declared cancer free in January of 2016. When Katie said that, the crowd roared with applause. “There are no amount of words to thank you for all that you do for our kids.”

At last year’s THON, Mike Gesicki came into the lives of the Knepp family. Katie said Mike Gesicki has kept up with them through Instagram, at the Zeta Psi house, and at the bowling alley in State College.

The Knepps now have a new pairing with Zeta Psi and Sigma Kappa. “We cannot thank you enough.”

Landon got to lead a We Are chant on stage, and even let his little sister say the “Thank You” at the end.

Photo: Patrick Spurlock

The Landon Kreider family shared their story next, joined on stage by dad Brian, mom Jill, Landon, and his brother Isaac.

Photo: Patrick Spurlock

Landon’s story began when he was in Kindergarten in September 2017. When his parents noticed mysterious symptoms, they called his pediatrician, who immediately ordered blood work. After an appointment at Hershey, they were told “the unthinkable”: Landon had leukemia.

The Kreiders were scared at first, but were determined to help their son beat cancer. Within 30 days, he was considered in remission, but still had years of chemotherapy to endure.

Landon ended chemotherapy and was declared cancer free in December 2015!

“Learning about the Four Diamonds and THON brought us a glimpse of hope, knowing financially we would not have to worry,” Brian said. “We are thankful to the Millard family for creating Four Diamonds in memory of their son Christopher, and its legacy for helping so many children like Landon.”

The Kreider family is paired with Penn State Harrisburg, who gave a loud cheer from the upper bowl.

“Without research and advances and treatment, Landon’s story may have been quite different,” Brian said. “We know this is why you THON…Please know we recognize what you do to help Landon, our family, and other Four Diamonds families. Your sacrifice, hard work, and passion is not unnoticed.

Landon led one of the loudest We Are chants of the weekend before the family walked off stage.

Photo: Dana Lipshutz

During a brief intermission from family stories, THON played the “Where Are They Now” video dedicated to THON children who have won their battles with cancer.

Photo: Dana Lipshutz

The Hope Maldonado Family shared their story last. Hope’s mother spoke about how her daughter had lost her battle with cancer.

“Never in a million years did I think I would be standing in front of people talking about how my daughter lost her life to cancer,” Hope’s mother said. “We were an ordinary family living an ordinary life, watching Hope cheerlead and our boys play football. It was a great life.”

When they noticed Hope’s eyes bulging, they were rushed to the eye doctor, and then referred to the eye doctor at Hershey, where they needed to go right away. In January 2014, they got the news no parent wants to here: Hope had cancer.

“When I finally snapped back into reality, I kept thinking, ‘How am I going to explain this to my boys? How am I going to explain this to Hope? How am I going to reassure them that everything’s going to be okay when I don’t even know?'”

Hope was in a lot of pain through treatment, but her mother said she continued to smile and laugh through it all. She joined the swim team and beat her best friend in a race the day after chemo.

“The nurses and the doctors were so amazed… They made Hope feel like a superstar.”

The Maldonados were paired with AZD and Sig Ep. “They not only became our Greek org, but they became our extended family, and we adored them.”

Hope was able to attend THON just once before she passed away in December 2015. “Thank you Marcus Josey and the Josey family for treating Hope with such love and kindness,” Hope’s mother said, probably embarrassing Hope by saying she had a crush on Marcus.

“One day we will be back as parents to a Sig Ep member and a Penn State football player.”

Photo: Patrick Spurlock

Hope’s friend and neighbor Rose spoke on stage next — yep, the same friend she beat in the swimming race after chemo. She tells the story of knocking on the door to get ready for school, and Hope’s father telling her Hope wouldn’t be going to school for a while.

“I didn’t really know how to take it in or understand what that really meant,” Rose said. “I didn’t really know how to act around her at first.”

When Rose realized Hope still needed a friend, they became inseparable. “If we weren’t at her house, we were at mine, and if we weren’t at my house, we were at hers…Wherever we were, we were together.”

Rose said it never really hit her how bad the cancer was until Hope told her she had the same cancer as Augustus Waters in The Fault In Our Stars. “She didn’t let the cancer and chemo stop her or take her life away. She just kept living in the moment the best that she could.”

Hope made it three months longer than what the doctors originally expected, and she and Rose spent much of that time together. “She was a warrior. Unfortunately, though, our time fell short.”

Instead of opening gifts on Christmas morning, Rose drove to the hospital to visit Hope when she was admitted to the hospital and not doing well. “I walked into Hopie’s room and held her hand and told her that I loved her and that I was so thankful I could call her my best friend…It was still just too much for me to wrap my head around.”

The family did a tearful We Are chant before AZD started a chant for Hope that echoed through the BJC.

Photo: Patrick Spurlock

The next video played at the Bryce Jordan Center honored the Four Diamonds kids who were taken far too soon. With the entire BJC wrapping their arms around the shoulders of those next to them, swaying back and forth, the crowd looked on in remembrance.

Photo: Patrick Spurlock

We THON For The Kids, and we THON for the families. THON’s Family Hour is a reminder of why we’re here this weekend to stand 46. One day we will dance in celebration of a cure.

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa was the managing editor of Onward State from 2017-2019. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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