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Cousin’s Cancer Battle Inspires Dancer’s Longtime Commitment To THON

For many Penn Staters, their THON experience starts when they arrive in Happy Valley for their college years. Pennsylvania native Payton Murphy’s journey couldn’t be more different.

Murphy’s involvement in THON stems from cancer personally impacting her life. At only 3 years old, Murphy’s cousin, McKenzie, passed away following a battle with cancer. A first-grader back then, Murphy can remember only so much from her time with McKenzie, but what’s left is impactful.

Her cousin had Down syndrome, so Murphy remembers using sign language with her. Additionally, she has early memories of the two hanging out by the pool and hugging each other.

Losing her cousin was devastating for her. Not only did she lose someone she was close with, but with Murphy being so young, it was hard for her to really process and understand everything.

“I just remember when she passed away it was life-changing because it was my 3-and-a-half-year-old cousin, who I thought was going to be around just as long as I was, and even longer, just passed away,” Murphy said.

“I was in first grade, too,” Murphy continued. “So, I wasn’t really hearing everything that was going on while she was up at Hershey Medical Center. I just knew she was sick with cancer and everything, and you don’t really understand it when you’re in first grade.”

Her first THON experience came two years after McKenzie’s passing when she was in the third grade. Murphy’s cousin, Lindsay, was dancing that year, so Murphy and her family attended the dance marathon on Sunday and spent the whole day there. The day simply changed her life, and right then and there, she knew she wanted to participate and THON moving forward

“I remember leaving just being like, ‘I never want to be mean to my brother and sister again,'” she said. “You hear those family stories of the kids who have passed away. I know I experienced it in my family, but just seeing their siblings up on stage like just as upset as the parents and everything. It just really changed my life.”

From there, Murphy’s THON journey was born. Growing up in Pennsylvania, Murphy had Mini-THONs throughout her life. She was a regular participant and she even got the chance to run it her senior year of high school. They set a goal of $22,000 and shattered that with $29,000 raised all For The Kids.

Back home, Murphy and her family have a fundraiser called “Mack Madness” in honor of her cousin, which is also the name of the org she started. The support from back home has followed her to Penn State with her org. Despite being a relatively smaller org, Murphy said that as of February 17, they’ve raised over $15,000.

The process of starting an org was more challenging than she anticipated, especially since she did it right away during her freshman year. Getting consistent participation and commitment were two of the hardships, and sometimes it’s hard to determine the intentions of the participants. However, she’s confident THON Weekend will overshadow the logistical difficulties that she had to overcome.

“I didn’t know a ton of people. I didn’t really know like how it worked up here,” Murphy said. “I knew the basics, but I didn’t know like all the details and all the planning and everything. Obviously, it’s difficult trying to get participation from everyone in the org. I feel like some people just do it for the name and to have that. So, it’s been a little difficult, but I feel like this weekend it’s gonna make it all worth it.”

With all the support Murphy’s been getting from back home, she’s heard a lot of encouraging words from those closest to her. It was something her dad said, though, that really stuck with her and put things in perspective.

“Your life will go back to normal on Sunday,” her dad said. “For these kids, their life isn’t going to go back to normal on Sunday. They have to still keep fighting.”

Murphy’s dancing, raising money, and doing everything in her power with the hope that, one day, no kid will need to go through that.

If you’re thinking about getting involved with THON, there’s likely no better person to talk to than Murphy. THON has been such a significant part of her life for a long time, and she knows the impact it can have on someone and how rewarding is in. She, of course, recommends everyone get involved with THON to help make a difference and hopefully one day find a cure.

“You meet a ton of great people who obviously all have great hearts because no one who has evil in their mind is going to spend that much time trying to raise money for kids with cancer,” Murphy said. “I just feel like it’s an event that you’re going to feel amazing after, no matter what the result is. The total they raise up, you’re going to feel amazing because you know you are a part of that in some way. And, you’re changing the lives of so many families and so many kids.”

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

After a four-year career with Onward State, Gabe is now a college graduate and off to the real world. He shockingly served as the blog’s managing editor during the 2022-23 school year and covered football for much of his Onward State tenure, including trips to the Outback Bowl and Rose Bowl. For any professional inquiries, please email Gabe at [email protected]. You can still see his bad sports takes on Twitter at @gabeangieri.

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