Monday, February 17, 2014

It's February...You're In Our Hearts and (TH)ON Our Minds

Every year at about this time, my heart starts to swell with pride and my mind starts to wander back to Penn State.  As a 2008 PSU alumna, 2007 organization chair, 2006 dancer and 2005 committee member, I have no doubt that my heartstrings will have an invisible, everlasting connection to THON throughout my entire life. Although I'd never heard of THON when I started as a freshman in Fall 2004, and I've only been back for 1 THON weekend since graduating, I know that my heart will always be in Happy Valley during THON,  and remains with the THON families throughout the year, every year.

This weekend (February 21st-23rd), more than 700 students will be dancing in the Penn State Dance Marathon--on their feet in the Bryce Jordan Center for 2 days straight, no sitting, no sleeping, and no knowledge of the exact time-- all with hopes of a cure for pediatric cancer and an easier journey for families who are battling it. I know I'm just one person, and THON has affected the lives of millions over the years, but I need you all to know that you're in my heart and on my mind, and I think it's safe to say that we're all proud of you.

You're in my heart, fellow alumni-
 Whether you were one of the students who had the idea to start up a dance marathon in 1973 or you are a recent grad who visited THON one night and thought it was pretty cool, you're in my heart and I think it's safe to say we're all better off from the experience. Whether you go back every year or haven't been there in awhile, you probably have a special place in your heart for Penn State, for THON and for the kids, and that rocks.

You're on my mind, current Penn State students and staff- 
Students- whether you're gearing up for what will be one of the greatest challenges of your life so far, studying extra hard this weekend to take a test early before THON weekend, or putting together dancer mail and goodie bags for your friends, you're on my mind. You may be communicating with your THON families and helping them prepare, constantly keeping a heroic kid's comfort and happiness at a level higher than anyone in your organization, and that's amazing. You may not even know what THON is yet, and to you I say, Go! The largest student-run philanthropy in the world is right there in Happy Valley every February, and it's one of the coolest experiences you'll ever have. Plus, if you love what you see, you can get involved next year, meet new friends, dress in bright colors, raise money for an amazing cause and have a blast, so there's all of that. 
Staff- To the professors who arrange test schedules and make accommodations for THON dancers around this weekend, thank you. To the professor who told me to rest up and not worry about class that Friday in 2006, I admire your ability to see something so much greater. 

You're in my heart, THON committee members, overall committee members and volunteers-
You put in so much time, energy, brain power and love to make THON what it is, and all we can do is say thank you. Rest up, you have a fun weekend ahead of you! Oh, and rest your voice, too- it may not last through the weekend, but you can give it a good effort :)

You're on my mind, THON families & kiddos- 
You are the reason we THON. The timeless, uncomfortable, tired state that we feel throughout THON weekend is how you spend months, maybe even years of your lives, and we are here for you through it all. Be there for each other, stay strong and know that Penn Staters always have your back. We'll have hugs, smiles and cheers for you if that's what you can use, and if you need a shoulder or a hand, we have lots of those, too.

“Encourage, lift and strengthen one another. For the positive energy spread to one will be felt by us all. For we are connected, one and all.” 
 Deborah Day

You're in my heart, cancer fighters and survivors-
   You have been through a difficult battle, perhaps it's even still going on right now. It hasn't been easy, and yet you remain optimistic, positive and hopeful. We are hopeful for you, here for you and happy for you when you reach milestones of your body ridding itself of cancer- especially when it's gone. We wish you happiness, fulfillment, love and a future filled with wonderful memories with family and friends.

You're on my mind if you've lost a dear loved one. 
   Nothing makes losing a dear loved one easier- not even time. You just learn to go on and take little reminders of him or her as tokens of luck, love and reflection.  Just remember that those we love are never gone, for in us, a part of them lives on. Those we have lost from cancer will be in our hearts and on our minds this weekend especially, as they are during all momentous occasions and celebrations of life. Let's not forget to be there for support, an ear, a shoulder, a joke, a dance, or whatever our friends need. 

You're in my heart if your heroic, courageous and sometimes-difficult journey on Earth has come to a close. 
 Most of all, we THON for you, we miss you, and we remember you. 

You're on my mind, doctors, nurses and health care professionals-
   Thank you for all that you do to keep these kids safe, healthy and smiling while they're going through treatment. Being in the hospital can really stink, but being at Hershey Medical Center is a sometimes-fun time for these kids (I wish it could be fun all the time, but you can't make it too much fun or nobody will want to go home)! Your care, patience, expertise and dedication give us hope for a future without cancer- for kids and adults alike.

You're in my heart. Yes, you.  You're a human being with a higher awareness for risk, prevention and self care. You take care of you and give care to others around you, and that's one of the most incredible things you can do. Be well, stay well, and give thanks year-round.

You're on my mind, Millard family, Brown Family, Layn, Sarah, Robin, Caity, Martha, Grandpa and so many others. THON will always have more meaning to me because of you. 
    The Millard family started the Four Diamonds Fund after their son Christopher passed away from a form of pediatric cancer. When he was alive, he had written a book in which a knight had to get through a very difficult battle using 4 qualities- courage, wisdom, honesty and strength. He did it and saved the day! At THON, we celebrate these 4 important qualities in our amazing THON families and (we hope) in ourselves.
     Laney Brown's story of bravery and courage hit really close to home this past December when this sweet 8-year-old girl (a THON child) wished for carolers to visit as she received hospice care in the comfort of her Reading, Pennsylvania home.  Her family had received the news that there was nothing else that doctors could do, and the sweet, beautiful little girl stayed strong until the end, spending her final weeks checking off items one by one on a bucket list, including meeting Taylor Swift (they Skyped while she was away on tour) and having thousands of carolers come out on December 21st. We remember her and send love to her family and friends, who are undoubtedly still grieving.
   Layn and Sarah were two of my organization's THON kids while I was a student at Penn State and I love the fact that Layn (who was a baby at the time we were paired with his sweet family) is now in elementary school and doing great, and Sarah (who was in middle school and already in remission when I got to Penn State as a freshman) is now in college, and is a beautiful young lady with hopes and dreams that are destined to come true. These THON kids went through treatment with courage, came out with wisdom and maturity far beyond their years and we will continue to be on their side whether they are still our THON kids or not. We wish them luck in all that they do, and wish their families the best, too.
    I especially THON for these individuals, as well as friends Robin, Caity and Martha, and my Grandpa Irv.

You're in my heart, THON and visitors, donors and supporters around the world-
 If you've never visited THON or, this is a great time to do it :) Check it out, learn more, be there for families and dancers, and- if you feel so inclined- make a donation to The Four Diamonds Fund. 

You're (TH)ON my mind, Penn State. 
   It's amazing how some people see college as just a time to party, or just a time to study, or (hey, this happens!) just a time to meet the love of your life. Some people see Penn State as a cult-like place, where we are herded through the gates of Beaver Stadium to make lots of noise and chant as one...where we're herded through the classroom doors as freshmen to learn, often in groups of 100 or more..where we're herded along to graduation, and then sent out into the world to figure things out for ourselves. What these people don't see is the growth that takes place while all of these things are happening, and the reality that you have an opportunity to party, and study, and even meet the love of your life, while bettering yourself for your future and while bettering the future for everyone.
  For some of us, THON is a huge eye-opener. It teaches us that when we work together, we can accomplish unbelievable things. When we put ourselves selflessly in others' (sometimes very small) shoes, we can feel and see and think in a way that is not only good for us, but for everyone. It shows us compassion, which is more valuable than any amount of money that we can raise. It shows us love, and care and hope, and anyone who does not feel that the world is full of enough of those things should head up to Happy Valley next weekend and check it out for themselves. Penn State has a lot to offer- a great education, some amazing sports programs, a beautiful backdrop for 4 (or more!) of the best years of your life, an awesome experience overall, and THON. When we say, "We Are Penn State!", that's what we're talking about.

"The greatest dance marathon will be the one we don't have to have. Until then, we dance for the kids". 

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