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Family Hour 2024 Puts THON’s Ultimate Purpose Into Perspective

The final stages of THON 2024 began with Family Hour on Sunday afternoon. Stacia Bird, the daughter of Four Diamonds founder Charles Millard, touched on the event’s “Treasure Every Adventure” theme and its relation to her father’s vision toward raising pediatric cancer awareness to kick off the segment. 

Bird’s brother, Christopher, lost his battle with cancer in 1972 at just 14 years old. Since then, Bird has treasured Christopher’s legacy through her involvement in the organization her father once started.

“There’s all of you taking on this adventure of fundraising, being a part of his legacy, pushing yourselves, exploring unknown territory, [and] staying up for 46 hours,” Bird said. “…Treasure the adventure. The ups and the downs, the highs and the lows, and knowing that everything you do makes a difference. From saving a life to easing the pain and bringing joy to the kids and their families in their greatest time of need.”

After Bird’s introduction, the family procession began. Over 80 Four Diamonds families were escorted across the THON stage to be recognized by the full-capacity Bryce Jordan Center crowd. 

Following the procession, the Sydney Bush family shared its story first. Although Bush is currently a third-year student at Penn State and a Family Relations captain at THON 2024, her Four Diamonds story first began in 2006.

Bush was diagnosed with a brain tumor in August 2005, resulting in hydrocephalus. With her diagnosis, Bush’s spinal fluid could not move between her brain and spinal cord, resulting in headaches and chronic neck pain. Just two days later, Bush was sent to Penn State Health Children’s Hospital in Hershey, Pennsylvania, as a two-year-old. 

While her tumor was successfully removed, Bush wasn’t initially cancer-free. She was faced with ependymoma or distinct subgroups of tumors that arise in the ventricular system.

“In 2005, there was no protocol for treating independent ependymoma,” Bush recalled. “No chemotherapy was bound to improve the reoccurrence or survival rates.”

Instead, the Bush family decided it was most favorable for Sydney to undergo radiation treatments. After seven weeks, the Bush was cancer-free. However, about a year and a half later, the condition resurfaced.

With the support Four Diamonds provided Bush and her family, she was able to afford a high-dose radiation procedure. Recently, she turned 15 years cancer-free.

“This time after surgery, I had been given a procedure,” Bush said. “It was a high-dose radiation to the area where the tumor was… But this, again, was the best option available. I would not be where I am without the support that THON and Four Diamonds provided to my family.”

Following the Bush’s, the Gordon family stepped up to explain the story of two-year-old Adley Gordon. Her father, Chad, manned the THON stage to explain Adley’s story of determination and perseverance. 

Just two weeks before Adley’s birthday in February 2022, Chad’s life was altered forever. Adley was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia, a common form of cancer between children ages one to 10. 

Upon learning about Adley’s diagnosis, Chad’s life instantly changed. Since then, Adley has continued to fight tirelessly between the Gordon’s hometown in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, and Penn State Health Children’s Hospital.

“I know for a fact Adley is putting up a fight in life,” Chad said. “She’s doing a great job about it. To her, like I said, this is life. She knows nothing else.”

Chad explained that although childhood cancer isn’t rare, it’s different to find other families suffering through similar battles. After tireless research in an attempt to better Adley’s condition, Chad found Four Diamonds. 

“[Four Diamonds families] reached out to us by the hundreds letting us know that we weren’t alone. I can’t imagine doing this without these other families… We thank you so, so much, and we appreciate what you’re doing.”

Toward the end of Chad’s speech, he discussed Adley’s road to recovery. As of today, Adley is 88 days away from taking her last dose of chemotherapy for her two-and-a-half-year treatment plan. 

“[Four Diamonds] not only helped us financially, but everything we do is for us — a family,” Chad said. “We’ve become so close with many of those individuals in Four Diamonds, and they continue to reach out on a weekly basis.”

To close out Family Hour, Brian and Ashley Grimm spoke on behalf of their son, Sam. To begin Brian’s sentiment to the onlookers, he described Sam as their “Four Diamonds angel.”

Sam was born on New Year’s Eve in 2018 with “incredible blue eyes and soft black hair,” as described by Brian. However, just 12 hours after his birth, a pediatrician felt an unusual texture on Sam’s liver.

Just two days later, it was suggested that he should visit the Penn State Health Hospital Hematology and Oncology clinic for further testing. After various MRI scans, it was determined Sam was born with stage four neuroblastoma.

According to Ashley, if Sam’s cancer had been contained to his adrenal gland as an infant, the body likely could’ve corrected the irregularity without treatment. But the cancer quickly spread. 

“Because Sam’s cancer had spread to his liver, he did have to start treatment,” Ashley said. “We were admitted to the hospital immediately because of size of Sam’s liver could have immediately obstructed his heart and lungs.”

That night, on January 3, Sam was admitted to the hospital. He wouldn’t leave the facility until January 22.

“Once we were in the hospital, we had around-the-clock monitoring, and we began meeting with Sam’s care team to determine the best plan for his treatment,” Ashley said. “After meeting with his surgical team, the plan was changed to do a full tumor resection surgery.”

At just seven days old, Sam underwent surgery. He was admitted to a NICU, transferred to the HEMA floor and later began his first round of chemotherapy. The first signs of improvement were positive.

“We knew that Sam’s treatments were working because, after his second round of chemotherapy, he underwent several scans to assess the efficacy of his treatment,” Ashley said. “And there was evidence that the cancer was receding.”

Despite struggling after his third chemotherapy dose, Sam continued to grow and prosper physically — just like any infant’s development. He continued to gain weight and his “bubbly personality,” according to Ashley, kept shining through his illness. 

On March 11, 2019, Sam unexpectedly passed away just three days prior to his fourth round of chemotherapy. He was 10 weeks old and spent 30 days admitted into inpatient care. 

To Brian and Ashley, Four Diamonds, THON, and the event’s purpose help carry Sam’s legacy so no child has to endure a similar start to his or her life. 

“The year after Sam’s passing, we weren’t sure whether this was the right environment for us,” Ashley said. “We were worried that this environment would be so full of hope when we were so freshly out of ours… Thank you for supporting us and for carrying Sam’s memory forward.”

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a senior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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