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‘Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff’: Childhood Cancer Survivor Dances In THON 17 Years After Her Own Fight

When Raquel Baskin was just five years old, she was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). Baskin entered treatment immediately at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which included rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.

“After all of that, I still wasn’t better. It helped, but I wasn’t better,” Baskin said.

In a fortunate turn of events, it turned out that her brother Brett had the matching blood type needed for him to be a donor to her. Even if the blood types match perfectly, though, the body can still reject the blood, Baskin explained. Luckily, her body took very well to her brother’s donation, and she entered remission not long after.

That was in 2007. Baskin is now dancing for 46 hours in THON 2024, 17 years later.

Getting involved with THON at Penn State was a no-brainer, as giving back through charity is not new to Baskin.

When she was in the hospital as a young child, Baskin’s parents were had a difficult time finding ways to keep her entertained, especially since it was a little too early for the age of electronics. From an early age, she enjoyed various arts and crafts, and her parents brought different kits and activities to her hospital room.

“[My mom] probably brought me one of those bracelet kits, and then it started like that, but then we got really into it. We started buying beads in bulk,” Baskin said.

Her doctors and nurses would take notice of the bracelets and ask for one, which would promptly get attached to their badges or lanyards, or even just worn on their wrists. The bracelets became a hit around the hospital, and Baskin and her family came up with the idea to charge $2 or $3 for the bracelets.

Soon, Baskin was making keychains along with bracelets and donating all of the money raised to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“It became like a fun job because it kept me working. I knew that [I was working] for a good cause, so it kept me entertained and helped me pass the time of sitting in the hospital for hours and hours,” Baskin explained.

She continued making and selling bracelets for a few years after she was out of the hospital and even partnered with Alex’s Lemonade Stand for a short time.

When it came time to choose a college, Penn State was at the top of the list. Her Penn State connection was strong — Baskin’s mom, aunt, uncle, and older cousins all went to Penn State. Ultimately, coming to Happy Valley, fueled by her family and a love of football, was the obvious choice.

Though it had been several years since Baskin crafted and sold bracelets, she quickly got involved with THON because of its mission. In her freshman year, Baskin joined an OPP committee. Things looked very different due to THON taking place virtually, but she says she met a lot of great people.

In sophomore year, she served as the family relations chair for her sorority.

“We had six families, so that was a really cool experience getting to connect with each one of them and give them my perspective. Not taking away [from] what they’re going through, but being able to connect to them…and give them hope. Like I went through it, and there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

However, Baskin’s main involvement at Penn State, even outside of THON, has come from club lacrosse. She played sports since she was five years old, after she finished her cancer treatment, and wanted to continue through college.

The team couldn’t play or hold tryouts during her freshman year due to pandemic restrictions, but she attended meetings they had throughout the year. She officially joined the team in her sophomore year.

“[Club lacrosse] is literally my favorite thing at Penn State. I’ve met my best friends there… I’m actually the co-president with Willa Hetznecker, and she’s awesome. She’s my best friend. So being able to take a leadership role and work on something I’m so passionate about has been a really cool experience for me.”

Thankfully, Baskin can get the best of both worlds since club lacrosse is a recognized THON organization. Club lacrosse is paired with the Herdson and Long families through THON and Four Diamonds, who will both be in State College this weekend. Baskin said she is so excited to represent them as a dancer and to hang out with them throughout the weekend.

This is only Baskin’s second THON in the Bryce Jordan Center. Freshman year took place virtually, and last year she was studying abroad in the spring semester. In her sophomore year, she spent 43 hours in the stands leading her organization since its THON chairs were dancing in the event.

More than anything else, she’s looking forward to hanging out with the Four Diamonds families. Of course, she also mentioned the Pep Rally on Saturday night and doing the line dance.

Thinking about this weekend, Baskin described it as a “full-circle moment.”

“I feel like it’s going to be difficult at times just because if I start to think about it, I was once in [the children’s] spot, so it’s going to be hard. But I think it will be more happy emotions than sad because THON is an inspiring weekend and is full of fun.”

Though Baskin recognizes that her cancer journey was very impactful on her life, she doesn’t let it define her life.

“It’s not something that I hide because I definitely know that it’s made me who I am today,” she said. “If it comes up, I’ll definitely share. But I don’t want to lead with that because I don’t want that to be the first thing they think of when they look at me. If you hang out with me or you play lacrosse with me or you work out with me, you wouldn’t know anything of it. So I just never want to lead with it because I don’t want that to be what they lead with when they look at me.”

While she tries not to dwell on her past, Baskin can’t deny there are life lessons she’ll carry into both THON Weekend and her future.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff. I’m not the best at that, but I’m trying,” Baskin said. “I try to work on that every day. In the grand scheme of things, you just have to be grateful for everything as a whole. And just living in the moment and appreciating your friends and the time that you do have around the ones you love.”

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About the Author

Haylee Yocum

Haylee is a senior studying immunology and infectious disease. She is from Mifflintown, PA, a tiny town south of State College. She is fueled by dangerous amounts of caffeine and dreams of smashing the patriarchy. Any questions or discussion about Taylor Swift’s best songs can be directed to @hayleeq8 on Twitter or emailed to [email protected]

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