Emily Whitehead

One Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon family is taking the fight against pediatric cancer to another level by establishing their own non-profit organization that hopes to save lives.

Emily Whitehead was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia just over four years ago, but after becoming the first pediatric cancer patient to undergo a clinical T-cell trial, her family has continued to bring awareness to the battle against cancer through their foundation.

According to a press release, the Emily Whitehead Foundation is a non-profit organization committed to raising funds to invest in the most promising pediatric cancer research. The foundation also hopes to provide support to pediatric cancer patients and will promote awareness of the disease through education and sharing inspiring stories.

“Emily has been doing well, being that she just had her blood checked two weeks ago and she is cancer-free,” Tom Whitehead, Emily’s father, said. “This upcoming May 10 will be the third year anniversary that she has been cancer-free. She is in the fourth grade and feeling good.”

Whitehead said the website for the foundation has been up for a few weeks, but the organization has just recently been approved for a non-profit status. Today is the first official day for the foundation and people looking to help can send in donations via P.O. Box or the foundation’s website.

The Whitehead family has been supported from the beginning by the Penn State Chapter Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), who served as their THON family, Whitehead said.

“The foundation is a great opportunity for the Whiteheads to help other people who are in a similar situation that Emily once was,” Vice President of PRSSA Rachel Guzak (senior-public relations) said. “It is a unique organization that many people do not have the luxury of having, so it is incredible that they have put so much time and effort into helping other families.”

Whitehead said the foundation’s mission is to spread awareness to the patients who need something more than normal treatments.

His family receives messages from people that need help finding trials and the foundation wants to help these patients get help, Whitehead said.

“We call the members of THON our family. We get weekly visits from them and Emily loves it when she sees them,” Whitehead said.

The family started the foundation with the help of Jessi Janiec, who was the president of PRSSA when Emily was first diagnosed with cancer.

“Currently, Janiec works in the Philadelphia area doing non-profit work. She helped us start the foundation and now serves on our executive board,” Whitehead said. “We wanted to start the foundation because people all over the world were reaching out to our family and we want to continue to help other patients that typical cancer treatments do not work for.”

Family Relations Chair for PRSSA, Miranda Kulp, loves being able to call the Whiteheads her THON family.

“We visit the Whiteheads at their house once every other week and we are really blessed to have them as our THON family. Tom and Kari and sweethearts and are such an inspiration to everyone. I think the foundation is absolutely incredible,” Miranda (junior-public relations) said.

“Especially when you look at [Emily]’s story and see where she has started, and now she is helping other children get as healthy as she is. I am honored to say that the Whiteheads are my THON family.”

Whitehead said this Penn State THON family served as inspiration for the foundation because of how much the students want to help kids with cancer.

“During the time that Emily was sick and we were told that she was not going to make it through the night, our PRSSA group came to the hospital during finals week to make sure that she was ok,” Whitehead said. “This is why we think of them as family. The support we had was priceless.”

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Zinnia Maldonado can be reached at zfm5016@psu.edu or (814) 865-1828. Follow her on Twitter @zinnia_dee.