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THON 2022’s Family Hour Reminds Us Why We THON

THON’s Family Hour is always a somber time. Despite the tears, it’s traditionally an excellent reminder of why THON exists.

On Sunday, THON 2022’s Family Hour began with Family Relations Director Caroline Camp recognizing the loss of Four Diamonds co-founder Charles Millard, who died at 93 in November. Millard’s daughter, Stacia Bird, spoke on the behalf of her parents, sharing that “THON was the one thing that he lived for and looked forward to.”

“Now, he will live on forever through all you do as one of the angels among us. And for that, I am forever grateful,” she said.

The family procession of all the Four Diamonds families in attendance followed.

The Declan Homan family spoke first. His mom, Jackie, shared his story about needing open-heart surgery at just six days old. They thought following the surgery that this would be the end of the worst for him, but it wasn’t until two years later that things would change.

Declan was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer called synovial cell sarcoma at 2-years-old – typically found in adults. His parents noticed that, while he didn’t say anything, his right hip was hurting. It wasn’t until one day when his sister pushed him down that they noticed there was a lump on his right hip.

Jackie announced that he celebrated being five years cancer-free on February 6. When Jackie said that, the crowd erupted into cheers.

“The dancers and organizer have no idea how much of an effect this has on families. To have this one weekend of love and celebration: No one is sick, and everyone is here for the kids,” she said.

The Grace Schneider family spoke next in a pre-recorded video. Grace was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia — the most common type of childhood cancer. Additionally, a few weeks after Grace’s diagnosis, research found that she has a genetic abnormality called iAMP21.

“I don’t think you ever truly realize the caliber…of what THON does and what Four Diamonds does down at Hershey,” Angela said.

Grace is currently in the maintenance phase of treatment and is able to lead a very normal life, according to Angela. The Schneider family’s speech was a reminder that “THON is not a place. It’s a feeling.”

“I think it’s so important to hear from the families that are direct recipients of the hard work you put into it…the true dedication that is put into this by college students when you could be putting your energy “

During a brief intermission, THON played this year’s “Where Are They Now?” video, which features updates on Four Diamonds children who have won their battles with cancer.

The McKenzie Schneider family shared their story last. Her dad, Ed, spoke on behalf of her and her family.

McKenzie was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and respiratory syncytial virus at 3 years old. On February 28, 2009, she passed away.

In her honor, McKenzie’s family created a nonprofit called “Mack Madness.” It’s raised over $340,000 since it began. While the family is partnered with Penn State Mont Alto, they started the Mack Madness organization benefitting THON. It raised over $27,000 in its first year.

“It was an empty time for us, but we knew we wanted to do something more,” Ed said. “…The reason we wanted to start that org is because of each and every one of you.

The McKenzie Schneider family ended their speech with three loud “We Are…FTK” and one “We Are…Penn State.”

The most emotional moment of the hour came when the final “Celebration Of Life” video played to feature the Four Diamonds children who lost their battles with cancer. It was followed by a performance of “Angels Among Us” from Justin Stanek and “Dancing in the Sky” from the Penn State Thespians. The BJC held each other, swaying back and forth, as everyone in attendance took in the moment.

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About the Author

Mackenzie Cullen

Sadly, Mackenzie graduated from Penn State in 2022. She majored in English and served as one of Onward State's associate editors. You can keep up with her life and send compliments to @MackenzieC__ on Twitter.

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