The pure innocence of a child equates to a world where anything is possible; a universe in which cancer does not exist because a cure has been found. When Alexis DePasqua was introduced to the idea of cancer at the young age of eight years-old, she believed she had the power to raise enough money to find a cure for the disease which had broken her family.
A young and determined adolescent who, along with her third-grade class, made friendship bracelets and sold them for 75 cents apiece. This was the wide-eyed hopefulness of a little girl without knowledge of the true horrors this disease could cause to so many people, especially to her Aunt Lori.
Growing up breathing blue and white
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Alexis was born into the Penn State culture: a way of life for many Penn Staters. Her father, John DePasqua graduated from Penn State in 1987 and was a linebacker and Letterman on the 1986 Penn State Football National Championship Team. Her Uncle Tony Williott was also a Letterman on the Penn State Football Team in 1976 and 1977.
Almost every individual from her family graduated from Penn State, including her Aunt Dana, two of her cousins, Alexandra and Gabrielle, and younger brother Jake, who is currently a freshman at the Penn State Behrend campus.
“Ever since [her] senior year of high school, Alexis had her heart set on going to Penn State,” Jake DePasqua (freshman-finance) said. “[It] was actually the only school she applied to.”
Her tight-knit family has always traveled to Penn State games and thrown massive tailgates with her friends and family for all of the big season football games.
Out of all the Penn State festivities and traditions, one stands alone for Alexis: THON, which has raised over $146 million dollars for Four Diamonds at Penn State Hershey’s Children’s Hospital.
A lost best friend
Alexis’ personal connection to helping fight cancer began when her mother sat her down one day in third grade and delivered some of the worst news she’d ever receive. “I remember my mom telling me my aunt was diagnosed,” Alexis said. But as such a young girl, she didn’t exactly know what being diagnosed with breast cancer truly meant.
“I remember her dark curly hair vanishing from her head and having to wear bandanas to cover the bald,” Alexis said. “Her thin figure changed from the chemo, but she stayed positive the entire time thinking she could beat this.”
Before the cancer clawed its way into her aunt’s life, Alexis and her family would take trips to see her Aunt Lori, Uncle Jim and cousin’s Sara and Daniel and travel to Hershey Park together.
“I remember [my Aunt Lori] hiding Hershey Kisses around the house and her tickling me until I couldn’t laugh anymore,” Alexis said. “It was such a big deal seeing them...anytime we would leave I would ball my eyes out because they were all my best friends.”
Even though Alexis’ younger brother, Jake, was only seven years old at the time, he still remembers the good times with his Aunt Lori.
“Being the youngest cousin in the whole family, many times I was left out, so I always talked to my aunt and she would always play with me,” Jake said. “She was one of the sweetest people in my life.”
When their Aunt Lori was 41 years old, she lost her battle with cancer.
“I still remember my last words to her, ‘Love you turkey lurkey, see you soon,’” Alexis said. “I thought she was going to be okay.”
The start of a new chapter
Soon after, Alexis attended her first THON when she was 12 years old. At the time, Alexis’s cousins were dancing in THON with their sorority.
“Ever since, I knew I always wanted to dance at THON,” Alexis said.
After her first exhilarating THON Weekend, Alexis remembers going up to her sixth grade English teacher and wanting to tell everyone in her class about THON. “I remember teaching the kids the line dance while wearing my THON Delta Zeta shirt.”
One of Alexis’ favorite things about THON is the line dance.
“Alexis is one of the few people that knows the line dances of the past [years] since she had the opportunity to see them in person,” said Kimberly Totten (senior-supply chain and information systems), her ‘Big’ in her sorority Sigma Kappa Theta Psi. “She still remembers them and shows off her dance moves every year to me around the time of THON.”
Alexis’ dedication to raising money for cancer started in third grade selling her handmade friendship bracelets and continued into her freshman year of high school, when she became the captain of her Relay for Life team. Her passion for being a Relay for Life captain ran through her freshman year at Penn State, when she discovered how involved she could become in raising money for another fight against cancer.
After Alexis joined her sorority, Sigma Kappa, in her sophomore year of college, she tried to become as involved as possible with THON by helping older members with their fundraising efforts.
“My big [Alexis’s G-Big] was a THON chair for Sigma Kappa [Theta Psi] and Alexis would always try to get involved with her efforts,” Totten said.
The next year, Alexis ran for a spot on the THON chair committee and was awarded the position of THONvelope Chair, who was in charge of all of the envelopes sent out to potential donors and also accounting for the money donated to the Sigma Kappa Theta Psi Team along with their 2017 partner, Phi Kappa Psi.
“Last year [THON 2017] really stood out to me because as a THON chair, I could see everything come together from behind the scenes and with the making of it all,” Alexis said.
Watching the money come in was exhilarating for Alexis, as she kept track of “this is how much we have and this is how much we need” in order to reach their goal.
“When THON Weekend came around, seeing us hit the top six again was so relieving and amazing,” Alexis said.
History repeats itself
The horrors of the Alexis’ past seem to be repeating themselves, only choosing a different victim this time.
Last year Alexis’ mother, Susan DePasqua, found multiple breast tumors and had several surgeries to remove them to prevent them from spreading. Every couple of months, Susan encounters more painful procedures leaving scars along her chest.
When precancerous cells showed up in a tumor just before last Christmas, Alexis felt “as if the world was crashing around [her].”
“I remember telling my brother I would drop out of school,” Alexis said. “I would drop everything to come home and be with my mom if her results with breast cancer came back [positive].”
“Alexis’ family is everything to her,” Totten said. “She has so much love for them so when something happens to them, it breaks her.”
Alexis’ mom going through many extensive surgeries to remove multiple tumors, along with her Aunt Lori’s death, has given her an incredible amount of passion to help raise money to find a cure for cancer.
“She’s always optimistic and dreaming of a better future,” Totten said.
The dance of a lifetime
Ever since she can remember, Alexis has envisioned herself dancing at THON one day.
“Having the opportunity to dance would make my dream come true and I’m ready to take a stand,” Alexis said. “A stand for 46 hours in honor of my mom, Aunt Lori and all of our THON children.”
But sometimes things don't always go as planned. Alexis always thought she would be a dancer for her sorority during her senior year of college. When the vote came down to five girls with only three spots open, Alexis did not receive enough votes to obtain a dancer position.
After a mountain of heartbreak and tears, Alexis decided that she, along with the complete support of her sorority Sigma Kappa Theta Psi, would pair with another sorority sister, Madison Greenfield, to sign up to become independent dancers.
With less than 100 days until THON, this challenge would prove to be a difficult goal.
“Alexis is willing to do whatever it takes to raise money this year. She has already filled out hundreds of THONvelopes and has had many fundraisers,” Totten said. “It’s all she talks about and is willing to reach out to anyone in order to help raise more money for THON.”
Her brother Jake has seen firsthand the endless number of hours Alexis has put into raising money for THON and letting people know about the event.
“Words can’t even describe how dedicated she is to THON and this mission to dance...the amount of texts and phone calls I’ve received from Alexis just to spread the word is countless,” Jake said. “I know my aunt is watching over her with a huge smile, knowing how proud she is of Alexis. I’m really praying [she] gets to have her lifelong dream of dancing.”
The duo has currently surpassed their fundraising goal thanks to a very generous $2,000 donation the girls received in early December. The team needed to raise $2,800 for their first entry ticket into a raffle to be chosen to be independent dancers. Each additional raffle ticket entry is $600. Madison and Alexis’s new goal since the generous donation is currently $5,000 so they would be able to have four raffle entries in hopes of securing independent dancer spots.
“Knowing that we have less than 100 days [to raise the money] is really nerve wracking,” Alexis said. “I feel like it’s gonna be really hard to raise the money, but I’m hoping THONvelopes are going to do it for us along with canvassing.”
After Alexis’ Aunt Lori died, her mom stopped attending THON because it was too painful for her. But if Alexis was to dance at THON 2018, her mom promised to make an appearance to support her daughter and also in remembrance of her best friend and older sister, Lori.
“Sometimes I find a Hershey Kiss wrapper in my jean pockets and I think it’s a sign,” Alexis said. “Her way of telling me that she’s here with me.”