OK, out there, who’s heard about Thon? You may be thinking of a well known telethon or marathon but this is a special kind of thon—a danceathon that started 41 years ago.
Penn State's THON is the longest dance marathon in the country lasting 46 hours and engaging more than 15,000 students each year.
It starts tonight at 6 p.m. and will go until 4 p.m. on Sunday. After 46 hours of staying on their feet, the students get a taste of the daily hardships that children fighting pediatric cancer endure.
Other students and families come support the dancers throughout the weekend. Attendees always look forward to "The Final 4 Hours," which includes Family Hour, when every family battling pediatric cancer is recognized and families give speeches about their battles with cancer
To date, THON has raised more than $101 million to benefit the Four Diamonds Fund providing money to offset the cost of treatment that insurance does not cover as well as other expenses of families who have a child with pediatric cancer. It also funds pediatric cancer research and supports the medical team at Hershey Children’s Hospital at Penn State.
THON’s website points out that childhood cancers are the number one disease killer of children in the U.S.- more than asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and pediatric AIDS combined.
The Four Diamonds Fund was established by Charles and Irma Millard after the death of their son, Christopher, who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 11. Four Diamonds is named after a story that Chris wrote shortly before he lost his battle with cancer at the age of 14.
In Chris’ story, a knight must find the Four Diamonds of Courage, Wisdom, Honesty and Strength in order to be released from captivity by an evil sorceress. The Four Diamonds are symbolic of the traits Chris believed were necessary to overcome cancer.
Having had my own Christopher with cancer, this story touched me and I’ve wanted to write about Thon for a couple of years now.
While we didn’t go to Pennsylvania for treatment, I do wish that one day I could attend THON as an encourager to some of the dancers.
But there are other opportunities to support THON throughout the year. On three special weekends, students travel through Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New York, and West Virginia to collect spare change for THON.
There are also picnics and a Harvest Day for families of kids with pediatric cancer. Organizations can also adopt a Four Diamonds family to visit and support throughout the year.
The THON 5k is the largest in central Pennsylvania with more than 6,000 runners each year.
So, the next time someone mentions some type of –thon to you, just think of those dancers on the floor for almost two days dancing without sleep to help children with pediatric cancer. God Bless THON and God Bless you!