Most of Penn State THON is blasting music, but there was the striking silence in the packed Bryce Jordan Center as three families spoke from the stage and shared their stories.
Michael Palm Family
Attempting to maintain his voice steady, Michael Palm's father addressed the crowd on behalf of his family, as the first speaker during Family Hour.
He stood arm and arm with Palm and his mother, Barbara.
“I look around the BJC, and I see heroes,” his father said.
He thanked all the volunteers, dancers and others involved for fighting Michael's battle with them, “a battle that is not yours,” he said.
Palm was diagnosed with leukemia in August, 2003, after going to the hospital due to problems with his glands.
Palm's father was at home with his daughters at the time and got a vague call from the hospital asking how fast he could be there. When he walked into the hospital that day, he said he could feel all the eyes on him.
Then, chemotherapy treatments began.
“I watched my son scream and squirm, with pain all around,” his father said.
Throughout all of this, Palm's father and mother did all they could to be their son's, “bridge,” although they said it was hard.
“While at the hospital, we learned about THON and Four Diamonds,” his father said. “While we were skeptical, we quickly learned that we had found our bridge in you.”
He ended his speech by turning to his son and telling him how proud and inspired he was by him, finishing simply with “we love you.”
Palm himself then spoke briefly to the BJC, thanking everyone for their dedication and offering some words of advice to the dancers during their final hours on the floor.
“Don’t stop when you’re tired," Palm said, “Stop when you’re done.”
Bekah Tuckey Family
BeKah’s mother addressed the THON crowd.
“We’ve got an army out on the stage and a full army out there,” Tuckey said. “So, thank you so much.”
Tuckey started her story by describing the ordinary objects she has on her refrigerator — magnets, grocery lists and photos of her children playing sports. Tuckey then discussed the atypical objects she keeps on her fridge — the remembrance photos she kept from viewings of some family members and of children who died from cancer: Maddie, Destiny and Kirra.
“It’s up to all of us to make sure that our angels are not forgotten,” Tuckey said.
On Aug. 27, 2011, Tuckey said her life changed.
Her daughter, Bekah, was diagnosed with leukemia. She was just starting kindergarten.
Tuckey recalls eating tacos as her last meal before they went to the hospital and discovered the diagnosis.
“Having tacos to this day gives Matt and I pause,” Tuckey said about her husband.
When she received the call from the pediatrician, she told herself to just breathe.
As she drove to Hershey Medical Center, she thought about how Hershey was the sweetest place on earth — but not this time.
“We drove into a black hole of darkness,” Tuckey said.
Tuckey learned that her daughter had a 90 percent chance of beating her cancer.
“In a world of childhood cancer, Becca was lucky,” Tuckey said. “Lucky?”
Tuckey said no cancer is lucky.
During her first days of treatment, Tuckey said she received several blood transfusions.
“I don’t remember all the stuff done to my baby girl,” Tuckey said, with her voice cracking. “I just had to keep telling her she will be okay, over and over again.”
After 799 days of treatment, Tuckey said Bekah “wiped that monster out of her body.”
In the hospital, Tuckey said she ran into a familiar face — her name was Tonya, and she soon realized Tonya was there when she gave birth to Bekah. Tuckey said she soon found out Tonya was living a similar reality, as her son Seth was also battling cancer.
“It’s not the type of small world to get into,” Tuckey said.
Tuckey said a year after beating lukemia, she relapsed. She said it took her “spirit and laughter.”
Tuckey said she calls her THON organization, Help Every Angel Live, heroes.
“Because they have done more than they’ll ever know,” Tuckey said. “I get texts from them when I need it the most.”
Tuckey said survivors guilt is “a real thing.”
“When you ask, ‘why me?’ Create your own story, and that’s why,” Tuckey said.
At the end, Tuckey shared thoughts from her daughter.
“Becca wants to remind everyone of empathy,” Tuckey said. “Encourage others to be there for others and listen when you offer.”
Emilia Dameshek Family
Emilia Dameshek had cancer three times in just three years.
The third cancer came before THON 2016, and her family thought Emilia would not be able to attend that year due to her compromised immune system. They told Club Gymnastics they would not be able to attend, and knew the organization — especially the dancers — were very disappointed Emilia would not be there.
“They rely on us just as much as we rely on them,” Natalie said.
However, the week before THON, the doctor said Emilia would be able to attend. They did not tell the org members in case something came up before or during trip. Instead, they decided to make her appearance a surprise.
“When they saw Emilia with her signature blue crutch, they were screaming and crying and cheering,” Natalie said. “They were so happy to see her.”
Not shortly after, on May 19, 2016, when Emilia was 12 years old, Emilia died and her family “had to leave the hospital without her,” her mother said through tears.
Emilia's parents, the last family to speak during Family Hour, told the story of their experience with pediatric cancer and Four Diamonds.
Mitchell Dameshek, Emilia's father spoke first. He told the Bryce Jordan Center of one day 6 years ago he took Emilia and their son Max to the pool, when his daughter arose from the water with tears from a pain in her leg.
He took her to the hospital, where they were given “the diagnosis no one wants to hear — she had cancer.”
That summer, everything changed for the Dameshek family.
Emilia has a rare bone cancer. She went through 14 chemotherapy cycles, a life-altering surgery and 8 types of drugs.
Emilia's mother, Natalie, said when they were at the hospital and Four Diamonds was brought up, she thought that because her husband had a well-paying job and good insurance it wouldn’t be something they would need to utilize for Emilia.
“I couldn’t have been more wrong,” Natalie said.
The family benefited greatly from the financial assistance, as Emilia spent 85 nights in the hospital the first year alone, and for about three months needed to be transported in an ambulance because she couldn’t ride in a car.
However, Natalie said the financial benefits were not the only things that four diamonds provided their family with.
“It’s not just healing and treatment," Natalie said. "It’s emotional support as well.”
Emelia loved gymnastics, and the family was paired with was the organization Club Gymnastics.
“It’s like Max and Emilia inherited 20 cousins,” Natalie said about Club Gymnastics, who would come to hospital visits, have sleepovers with Emilia and even took Max to Hershey Park for his 11th birthday.
“We shape every moment with her,” Natalie said, saying the family said "yes" to more things they ever had before.
After the first round of cancer, Emilia had relapsed two more times from the drugs that she was given.
Natalie recounted one day when Emilia had a fever, and her daughter told her, “I’m scared I’m going to die.” That fever turned out to be her second time relapsing.
Emilia died shortly after attending THON 2016 on May 19, 2016, at 12 years old. Through tears, Natalie said her family “had to leave the hospital without her."
Over 800 people came to Emilia's funeral to say goodbye and support her family.
“We hope we can never have another family up here telling this story,” her mother said. She added that Emilia had once told her she never wants to be “the kid on the slideshow that died.”
Natalie then thanked everyone in the BJC for their support.
“We would not have been able to do it without all of you,” Natalie said. “You helped us through the darkest time in our lives.”
Ben Hammel was involved in Penn State THON all four years he attended the university, and he…
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Delta Upsilon and Delta Gamma
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