Lauren Schildt’s journey to Penn State began with THON and will come full circle this weekend when she dances for 46 hours.
Schildt (senior-nursing) knew she wanted to dance on the floor of the Bryce Jordan Center during the Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon since she first attended THON in 2000, and this weekend, she will have the chance to join more than 700 other students to fulfill her dream.
But Schildt differs from most of the other dancers in one significant way: she’s a former Four Diamonds child who beat cancer.
The news came in May 1999. After visiting the doctor in response to several bruises, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at age eight. Her family was overwhelmed by the diagnosis and was unsure of her prospects of beating the disease.
Schildt’s mother, Cathy recalls the day her daughter confronted her own mortality.
“One day she just asked me ‘Am I gonna die?’ ” Cathy Schildt said . “I took a deep breath and I said, ‘We’re gonna do everything in our power to make sure that doesn’t happen.’ ”
In the days after the diagnosis, the Schildt family was introduced to the Four Diamonds Fund — a support system in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty. Within months, the organization had arranged for the Schildts to attend THON, Schildt said.
Lauren Schildt recalled being able to feel the energy and love in the air from the massive crowd when she first stepped foot into Rec Hall for THON weekend in 2000 as a young child, and she was instantly mesmerized.
“Initially, I was really nervous walking in and I shied away from crowd,” Schildt (senior-nursing) said, remembering her first THON. “But by the end of the weekend, I was enjoying all of it and it ended up being best weekend of my entire life.”
The Four Diamonds Fund continued to help the Schildt family with co-payments on expensive medicine treatment. Thanks to that support, Schildt said, Lauren was able to receive intensive doses of medication and chemotherapy, key factors contributing to the announcement that she was in remission in early October 2000.
Lauren cited her experience with THON and the Four Diamonds as major influences in her decision to pursue a nursing major at the Hershey Medical Center.
“Before I was diagnosed, I had no idea what I wanted to do but when I got better and realized what I went through, that something so horrible could be a blessing,” she said. “Once you’re diagnosed, you look at life differently and after I survived I knew I had a purpose in life, to give back.”
She also said that THON was one of the most prominent reasons that she wanted to attend Penn State, and she knew she wanted to be involved in the weekend. Since going into to remission, Schildt has attended 11 THON weekends. This year will be her 13th total, but her first as a dancer.
She admitted to being nervous about dancing, but as THON approaches, Lauren is excited to finally have the chance to complete her dream.
Her moraler for the duration of THON, Laura Kennedy, is excited to show Lauren a new perspective on what people are trying to do for kids like herself who were diagnosed with pediatric cancer.
“She’s living proof, in front of our faces, that what we’re doing matters and really does change lives,” Kennedy (sophomore-journalism and French) said. “Seeing her dance, it’ll be right there on the dance floor that this is why we do this, so more kids can grow up and give back the same way.”
Kennedy said she has already been touched by Lauren’s story, which was featured as a Family of the Week installment during a Morale Committee meeting. She said she feels pride in knowing everything Lauren has already overcome.
Kennedy also confessed to being nervous about being able to help someone who had already accomplished so much, but said she feels she can support her in small ways, like when she encouraged Lauren to approach Jay Paterno and speak with him during Color Wars on Feb. 9.
And after all that Lauren has been through in the last 13 years, Cathy Schildt is anticipating an emotional response to finally seeing her daughter in THON dancer apparel after many years of waiting for that moment.
“I think this year will be the best THON experience we’ve had, just having her dance and fulfill one of her dreams to come from patient to student and dancer,” Cathy Schildt said. “She’s really coming full circle.”