It’s a THONomenon

It’s a THONomenon

When I was a little Penn State freshman, I met a big sophomore who was going to be a dancer in the dance marathon. He told me I should come say hi. This is what I imagined in my head: a wedding reception type set up with the dance floor filled with people who danced until they could dance no more.

When I stepped into Rec Hall on Saturday afternoon, I was speechless. The shear volume of people was astounding. Lights, colors, music, energy. I remember exactly where I was standing. The line dance came on and I was hooked. It was one of those life-changing, soul-connecting moments.

Just ten days after I was born, my older sister died of a brain tumor. She was nearly two. My whole life I’d felt that cancer robbed me of my sister. How awful that any family should have had to suffer such pain and loss. There, in Rec Hall, I found my people.

THONI danced in THON in 2002. Way back then, THON was held in Rec Hall and we were dancing straight for 48.

I was serious about it, as I am about most things. I went into preparation mode a month before the big weekend: following the nutrition guide, going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day. I was scared; I didn’t know if I’d be able to last standing for two entire days.

As I sat on the floor waiting for the official word to stand up, I repeated to a friend, “it’s all about the mindset.” The only way to make it through is to decide you will.

THON weekend is a roller coaster. Your friends bring smiles and favorite snacks. Your parents visit and you wish they’d leave; then you wish they’d please come back. You play catch with a THON kid. Your brain goes through sleep cycles even while you stand there awake. You make new friends. Your feet HURT. Your friend Terry unexpectedly shows up and demands that you remove your shoes for a foot rub. And he doesn’t say one thing about how they stink.

I remember watching the windows to see if the sun came up yet. I remember joyous kids running everywhere.

At one point I was convinced they had changed the line dance. Me: Yes, this is definitely different. People who’d had sleep: Sure it is.

My whole body hurt. I was exhausted bordering on nuts. Psychology majors started to show up and ask us questions for their studies on sleep deprivation.

I remember bawling through family hour. And, I remember feeling part of something so much larger than Penn State.

At the end of the weekend, the end of the longest day ever, it’s still nothing compared to the pain a child with cancer endures, the exhaustion that family feels. Preparing for the weekend, rejoicing in the high points, working through the lows--this is a mere peek into the lives of those with cancer.

You’re doing an amazing thing, dancers. You are daring to stand with those who are hurting. We are all so proud of you. Thank you.

Dance with all your heart, THON with all your heart, Love with all your heart, For The Kids.