By Sam Elliott
Staff Writer & Reporter
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – On February 17-19, 2017, the Bryce Jordan Center held host to the yearly anticipated event of THON; an event dedicated to the eradicating of childhood cancer and dancing for a cure.
Cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute, is “a term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues.” It can affect everyone. Roughly 15,780 children in the U.S. are affected each year, between their birth and age 19. As a result, about 1,960 of those diagnosed children will die. It is sad, but that is the reality. That is why people donate to THON – the largest student run philanthropy, dedicated to the fight against cancer.
The students of Penn State who participate in this organization happily and without hesitation give their time to go out and collect donations through “canning,” soliciting businesses for contributions, and spreading the word of THON and all the good things it represents. THON, however, wouldn’t be possible without Four Diamonds.
What is Four Diamonds? It is a foundation created by Charles and Irma Millard in honor of their son, Christopher, who was diagnosed with cancer at age 11. Before he died, he wrote a story about a knight who went in search of four diamonds. These diamonds were what the knight thought to be the key to being released from the clutches of an evil sorceress. The four diamonds were courage, wisdom, honesty, and strength……these were also what Christopher believed to be the cure to defeat cancer.
That is where the name came from. Their foundation covers 100 percent of the child’s cancer-related medical expenses that are not covered by insurance, as well as providing support to the families affected. Penn State is all about giving back, and the Four Diamonds are a perfect symbol of that representation.
Now another huge aspect of THON is the 46 hour dance for a cure marathon, with no sitting or sleeping allowed. All the student dancers who participate are hand selected by members of the Penn State faculty, who conduct interviews to identify students that represent the proper ideals of a Penn Stater. The students must be active members of the THON organization and answer a series of questions in relation to why they THON. The responses to these questions are the most important part in being selected as a dancer.
It is an honor and a privilege to be selected as a dancer. Parents and their cancer-stricken children are present for the marathon, and as a dancer, one must act accordingly. Dancers have the responsibility of making that child forget their troubles for brief time. Make them feel like a normal kid again. Make them laugh, make them smile, make them feel lifted by the emotional support of the whole community, for they are never alone. There is strength in numbers, encouragement by the numbers, wisdom from their elders, and the honest belief that that child can beat cancer.
This year, the PSNK faculty selected Shannon Josefoski and Chad Navarro as the dancers to hold the honor of representing our campus at THON 2017. Campuses select individuals they believe to be worthy of that representation and are shipped up to University Park for the event.
When Navarro was asked what THON meant to him, he humbly replied, “Being able to help people.” He also said that he was looking forward to “meeting some pretty cool people, seeing people from other campuses, being able to stand for 46 hours straight, all the sports teams at the pep rally (they do stunts with music), hanging out with my morale (Kyra Harkins), and doing stuff with our dancer, Shannon.” Navarro in his own words, is “pretty pumped up” for THON!
Last year, Ben Lesko was chosen to be our male dancer at THON. To him, the whole THON experience had a “huge impact [that] changed [his] life.” He said it makes you, “count your blessings,” and the “46 hours is nothing compared to what these kids go through.” To Lesko, THON means sacrifice, and by sacrifice he means, “giving time from yourself to help others.”
Lesko also described how he felt through the 46 duration, and made it seem like a highly emotionally thrilling rollercoaster ride. He said that it was amazing and filled with energetic excitement at the beginning. “Halfway through you’re in awe” to even be a participant, but the truly emotional feelings come near the end when the names of those who lost the fight are presented to everybody, along with those who are still currently fighting. That sadness associated with the loss isn’t there for long because the THON family then reenergizes everybody with hope for the future.