Those near each other in the Bryce Jordan Center pulled each other close and swayed to the music as they began to watch the Angels Tribute feature during the THON 2013 Family Hour.
Sobs could be heard from those on the floor as the video showed Four Diamonds Fund and Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon children who had lost their battles with pediatric cancer.
But Family Hour was not marked with complete sadness, but with the hope of finding a cure for pediatric cancer.
“[Family Hour] is where you remember the past and hope for the future,” Kaitlyn Shifflet, Class of 2011, said.
Family Hour began with a video showing Four Diamonds Fund children who have been in remission for years and the various stages of life they are in now.
The first family to speak, the Trent Golden family, took the audience of the BJC through their journey with their son. Tammy Golden explained that in March of 2003, her son Trent had been running high fevers until he was finally diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in May of that year.
“At this point, real life had smacked us in the face,” she said. “Our perfect 4-year-old boy had cancer.”
It was during their time at the Hershey Medical Center when they were contacted by the Four Diamonds Fund.
Applause erupted from the audience when Tammy repeated what the Four Diamonds Fund representative told them that day: “Whatever your insurance doesn’t cover, the Four Diamonds [Fund] will,” she said.
In 2005, the Golden family went to its first THON Family Picnic and signed up for THON. It was there that they were paired up with Alpha Sigma Alpha and Lambda Chi Alpha. Tammy explained that the family has formed a true bond with these organizations and has even been to a few weddings.
“What you’re doing is saving children’s lives,” Tammy said. “Trent is cured and cancer free today because of what you guys are doing.”
Afterward the Dustin Beaver family shared its story.
Dustin’s sister Kristin began the family’s story by telling the audience of her husband’s tumor found in his neck. After three surgeries, her husband was finally cancer free.
“I firmly believe that Ryan was diagnosed with cancer before Dustin so that he could help him with it,” she said.
Dustin’s mother, Patty, then began to speak. She said on Dec. 22, 2010, Dustin was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia after having pains in his joints similar to rheumatoid arthritis.
That Christmas break was spent in Hershey Medical Center, but 29 days after diagnosis, Dustin was in remission.
“When he is finishing his freshman year in high school, he will be finishing his cancer [treatment],” Patty said.
She said that the Four Diamonds Fund provided her family with “the emotional and mental support money cannot buy.”
Patty said what drives her family to speak during Family Hour is “the opportunity to give back, and to make all of Penn State realize what they’re doing for us.”
And for the Emily Whitehead family, this year’s THON was especially meaningful because the family was unable to make it to last year’s THON.
“Having to tell Emily that she had relapsed was tremendously difficult, but telling her we were missing THON was heartbreaking,” said Emily’s mother Kari.
During this time last year, the family had to leave the Hershey Medical Center for a hospital in Philadelphia, where Emily underwent a highly experimental treatment. Her T-cells were removed, trained to fight the cancer cells and then put back into her body.
At the hospital in Philadelphia, many of the nurses were Penn State graduates who had connections to THON.
When it seemed like Emily might not be with them much longer, members of the Penn State’s Public Relations Student Society of America chapter drove to Philly, some missing their own finals, to be with the Whiteheads.
Kari said Emily was able to hang on that night because Emily was thinking, “I might have missed THON 2012, but I’m not going to miss another,” after Kari had started playing Emily’s THON song “Dynamite.”
Emily has been in remission for the past nine months.
The final family to take the stage told of its child’s 127-day life.
“Our story is not one of death, but one of life,” mother Gina of the Teddy Morton family said.
Teddy was born with small bruises all over his body. The doctors told the family their child had the highest white blood cell count they had ever seen in a child.
“I asked, isn’t that a sign of cancer? And they were all silent. And then I knew,” Gina said.
Teddy began his chemotherapy on his third day of life.
Father Dennis explained that one of their neighbors had a son who was dancing in THON, and that is how they were introduced to the Four Diamonds Fund.
Friends and family of the Morton’s have raised $5,000 for the family through the fund.
Dennis implied that his two other children, Charlie and Simone, will be in the Penn State Classes of 2028 and 2032, respectively, which was received by cheers in the BJC.
Gina said THON is “a place where [Teddy’s] life is celebrated, like in our house.”
Shannon Sweeny contributed to this report.