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Family Night Out – A Chance to Share, Learn and Inspire

On June 7, 2011 several members of the THON 2012 Overall Committee traveled to the Penn State Hershey Medical Center to attend an annual event held for new Four Diamonds Pediatric Oncology patient families. Family Night Out is an opportunity for families of newly diagnosed children to come together for a night of education, fun and bonding. Many families have either never heard of THON or have never met a THON volunteer, so it gave the Overall Committee the chance to hear the families’ stories and meet the children as well as to share their own stories of THON.

It is so crucial that all families know they have the support of thousands of THON volunteers all year round, not just during the October to February fundraising months. To know someone is here for them during such a devastating time gives the families the strength they need to continue their fight with pediatric cancer. We asked a few members of the Overall Committee to share their thoughts about the event and you can read their answers below.

Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to talk to a child diagnosed with cancer will tell you how incredibly motivational they are, and events such as this give volunteers a chance to do just that. The children and their families are truly an inspiration for us and are the reason we do everything we do. They are the reason we THON. They give us our strength and will to fight. For them. For The Kids. For Their Futures.

 Please give a short description of this year’s Family Night Out:

 Family Night Out was a great event that displayed how THON truly is year round. It granted the volunteers an opportunity to spend some time with the children while their parents had alone time to discuss with some of the Hospital staff different aspects of what they are currently facing. We were able to help put a smile on the children’s faces, both patients and their siblings while also relieving their parents from having to stress about their children while they learned some new information. We also interacted with Family Specialist and Music Therapists and aided them in the activities they were leading. It was a great experience to see just how these specialists interact with the children; something we do not always get to take part in. - Gen Goldsmith, Morale Overall

What was your favorite part of the event?

My favorite part of the event was definitely getting to meet new Four Diamonds children, siblings, and their parents. All of the families I met displayed amazing courage and strength and only ensured to me that we must do all we can so one day, we can dance in celebration. - Becky Mayes, Special Events Overall

Do you think the families had a good time?

I think the families had a great time. It seems that some families find the strength in each other, and the volunteers, knowing that they are not alone in this fight.  These types of events provide a small and intimate setting for families and kids to get to know one another. - Elaine Tanella, Overall Chairperson

 Was there any family there whose story particularly touched you?

 I met two boys, Dustin and Bryce, who knew each other before being diagnosed from playing soccer together. They were both great friends and very supportive with each other but still showed the same energy and goofy nature that all younger boys do. They are both fairly new to THON and I am excited to see them at future events. - Kinjal Mathur, Entertainment Overall

I spoke to the Beavers and Carters very in depth at the end, and to see how close Dustin and Bryce have become, even only after a short time, it was amazing. The energy both boys possessed as well showed me that cancer can bring down the body, but it cannot touch the soul. When Bryce said “mom, can we have a sleepover because Dustin and I both have cancer…and we love video games and sports”, I was nearly brought to tears, but laughed instead. It was such a funny thing to hear from a young kid, but was incredibly touching. The fact that both of these boys never stopped talking about how they play sports and love being active proved that although they are in an extremely tough time, they both are looking past their problems and have faith in themselves and us. - Tommy Scharnitz, Hospitality Overall

Why do you think it is important to hold events like this for families?

Some of the best support, I think, comes from families helping families and being able to relate to one another.  The bonds and connections that I’ve seen some families form at events over the past few years with my involvement are truly amazing.  Some families are so close that you might think they are cousins or brothers/sisters.  Cancer tries to beak people and break families apart, but it doesn’t realize it can bring people together. - Elaine Tanella, Overall Chairperson

 Do you feel that is important for THON members to try to attend Four Diamonds Fund events?

It’s extremely important for THON members to try to attend Four Diamonds Fund events because it goes even further to bring meaning to the word that cancer is a year-round battle.  THON and The Fund are one family together united in the fight, and conquering childhood cancers. One would not be nearly as strong without the other. Cancer treatment is not just about the dose of medicine or the length of the regimen. It’s about treating the whole person and the whole family. Through these events, families are treated, and it also helps THON members to further realize what these families go through on a daily basis and how we can be there for them through this process. - Elaine Tanella, Overall Chairperson

Filed under FTK Family THON Ped pediatric cancer The The Four Diamonds Fund Penn State Hershey Hospital

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Focus on the Families

The families of the Four Diamonds Fund are the true inspiration and reason why we THON. In an effort to increase inspiration and the focus we put on the families of the Fund, we have created web-pages to share their stories! These personal web-pages showcase the families’ favorite activities, vacations, THON memories, and their message to you- the volunteers of THON! All of the information located within these web-pages came directly from the families through a questionnaire sent to all Four Diamonds Families. While viewing their web-pages, remember that together we will find a cure for pediatric cancer!!

As you visit make sure that you also check out the family stories for more inspiration from the families:

From the Beltz Family: “I find it ironic that YOU say WE are the inspiration….it really is 2 way.  It is the good in all of you that inspires families like us to take our situation, turn it around and give back to others that are in the same place we are.”

From the Ostott Family: “We’d like to tell you how ‘proud’ we are of ALL of you for all that you do to make THON such a success!! Your hard work, dedication and determination mean more to us than you could ever know.”

From the Kretz Family: “It is awesome that Penn State students through THON and The Four Diamonds Fund recognize the blessings they receive by being involved with these families. In turn the enthusiasm and hope given to the families from the Penn State students is irreplaceable.”


For The Kids, For The Families.

Filed under cancer family THON

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Gabe Angus and THON Express

This is the story of Gabe Angus and his family, the people behind THON Express. I hope you find it as inspirational as we do. 

All too often in our day to day lives we like to think of ourselves in control.  We plan our every moment and convince ourselves that we are not prone to harm.  This is folly of course.  We all eventually succumb to some kind of mishap or misfortune.  For most of us these mishaps are minor blips on the screen of life.  Yet for others the misfortune is deeper.  It is life changing.  It runs deep, all the way to the soul of our being.

One of those misfortunes has happened to us, and this is our story.  On a beautiful fall day we traveled to Penn State in State College to watch the Lady Lion field hockey team play.  My lovely bride, Connie used to be the goalie for the Lady Lions.  Our son Gabriel and our two daughters Veronica and Sydney were with us.  Gabe was four years old, Veronica was two and Sydney was a newborn.  It was a good game, and honestly I cannot recall who won, but I do remember that Gabe was so weak that I carried him all day.

He had been complaining about his legs feeling tired all summer and it seemed like his energy level had been dropping with each passing day.  Connie and I agreed to have him checked out the next day.  We went and had him checked out and they took his blood.  In the middle of the night the phone rang.  Those calls in the middle of the night are never good.  Gabe’s pediatrician told us we needed to get Gabe to Hershey Medical the very first thing the next morning.  Needless to say, we didn’t sleep very much that night.

We arrived at Hershey Medical the next morning.  They took his blood.  I remember it slowly filling up the vial.  It wasn’t the normal deep dark red that I was used to seeing.  It was more like cherry Kool-aid.  You could see right through it.  I knew in my gut that there was bad news coming our way.  At about five P.M. we got the news. Leukemia.  Connie almost fainted.  I grabbed her and took her to the hallway.  I asked her not to cry, and to remain strong for Gabe.  We both gathered ourselves and went back into the clinic room. 

Gabe was admitted that night to the 7th floor.  I spent the night with Gabe, and Connie drove home to our girls who were with their godparents.  The emotions were fast and overwhelming.  Was my son going to die?  Will this be my last night with him?  Am I going to be talking to him over a gravestone?  How are we going to pay for all of this?  Is our medical coverage going to cover part or all of his treatments?  What are his chances?  The list goes on and on.  All the while, I am worried for my wife, my daughters and our future.  In twenty four hours, everything that we thought was important was no longer relevant.  The only thing in that moment was the life of our son Gabriel.  Late that night after Gabe had fallen to sleep, I drifted off despite the beeping monitors and the worry that this may be the last day with my son.

The next day brought a new set of worries.  We didn’t know what kind of leukemia Gabe had.  There were two choices, AML and ALL.  Trust me, this isn’t a choice anyone should have to make.  Fortunately, for Gabe and us it was ALL.  His chances for survival were much better with ALL as apposed to AML.  This was as good a news as we could get, but the next news would change our lives forever.

A case worker by the name of Greg, who worked for the Four Diamonds Fund, told us that we would not pay a dime for Gabe’s treatment and that the FDF would pay for all expenses above and beyond what our insurance wouldn’t cover.  We had no clue what the FDF was, but what a relief it was to know that we could just concentrate on getting our son better and not worry about medical bills.  Most people would say this is the end of the story.  No.  It was just the beginning.

Gabe started his treatments.  At first because of his blood transfusions, he actually seemed better, but over the next thirty days his downward progression was steady if not frightening.  His hair came out in clumps on his pillow, and he refused to let us cut it.  His skin color became a sickly white, and his muscles slowly waned away.  He looked malnourished.  His preschool teacher came over to see him.  He was asleep.  When she saw him, she burst into tears and could not control her sorrow.  This was a common experience for us.  Someone would come over to help us, with meals, or help watch the girls, and when they saw him they would cry and we would console them.  Some would say that they were selfish, but we know better.  We knew why they cried.  Even though it was not their son or daughter, it could be.  The reality was too close to home, such sorrow.

One morning while I was in my office Gabe walked by and fell to the floor.  I had thought he tripped on something, but by the end of the day he could no longer walk.  The chemo had done him in.  It was quite awhile until he walked again.  I had to carry him everywhere including the potty where I had to hold him or he would fall off like a sack of potatoes.  Through all of this we tried to remain upbeat and positive.

Near the end of his first thirty days, Gabe became so weak that we had to feed him.  Wherever we put him, he remained, like a lump of clay.  There was no laughter at this point.  The only one that could even get a smile out of Gabe was little Sydney.  She would crawl up and tease him until he would laugh.  This was the hardest time for me.  To this day, I cannot recall those days without tearing up.  I don’t see this ever changing.

Gradually, over time Gabe got better.  Sydney and Gabe learned to crawl and then walk together.  I started Gabe with a walker that the FDF had paid for.  I would make him walk to the potty.  The first day I did all of the work, but each day he got stronger and over several week’s time, he no longer needed the walker.  After that we taught him how to go up stairs.

In the spring we got a strange phone call.  “Hello my name is Travis Hoffman and I am with the Student Red Cross club.  We are your Penn State Student organization.”  We didn’t understand at the time what that meant.  We did not know that each Four Diamonds family is adopted by a student organization and really becomes a family.  We did not know, that this group of kids from 100 miles away was going to change our life forever.  “Mrs. Angus what can we do to help?”  We were speechless.  Here was a total stranger offering to help us when quite frankly others were afraid to get near us.  We heard someone say once that having cancer is like being a leper.  Everyone knows it exists, but want you to stay in your cancer colony, as if they might catch it.  I suggested that several students come to our house to play with the kids.

About five students made the trip.  We went outside and played and played.  When Gabe got too tired to be on his feet, they carried him.  We laughed.  We laughed more in that one day than we had in the 6 months prior.  That day started a tradition of sorts.  Now, during several times a year we have the Student Red Cross kids down.  We make the now world famous Angus burgers and spend at least one weekend a year helping them raise money for the FDF.  They are our family now.  Imagine having all of your medical bills being paid for and gaining a huge family to boot.  Wow!

Gabe is nine years old now and is doing well.  In his second year of treatment while in training for a marathon in his honor, my wife and I came up with a crazy idea of running from Hershey Medical Center to Penn State’s annual THON dance which is where a lot of the funding for the FDF comes from.  We wanted desperately to give back, for saving our son’s life, for giving us hope, for giving us a family when we needed it the most. 

That crazy idea is now entering it’s fourth year.  It is called THON EXPRESS.  Fifteen runners carry letters of thanks from four diamonds families to the dancers at the 46 hour no sitting dance marathon in State College held every year in Feb.  The letters are put in a backpack and relayed the 135 miles nonstop through the winter night.  Each runner completes three 3 mile legs and the team runs together the last mile to the Bryce Jordan Center where they enter onto the stage to greet the dancers.  Our fundraising efforts have been modest, but our goal has been to raise awareness in the communities in which we run while trying to raise money for the FDF.

There is much to the Four Diamonds Fund which we could tell you.  Let us just say that there is almost nothing we wouldn’t do to pay it forward. 


135 miles in 24 hours FTK

Hank, Connie, Gabe, Veronica and Sydney Angus

Filed under Family Family Friday Family of the Week THON Express

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Meet Megan Eslinger

Throughout THON’s 33 year partnership with The Four Diamonds Fund, one common theme has endured, and it is was drives THON’s 15,000 volunteers still today. For The Kids. The children and their families who receive treatment at Hershey Medical Center are our inspiration throughout the year, and so it is only appropriate that the THON Blog’s new friday feature will be Family Friday. Each Friday, we will share with you a story of a Four Diamonds Fund child to help remind the THON community exactly why we are here.

This Friday, we have the story of Megan Eslinger, FOTO’s THON child.


On Friday, January 23rd, 2009 Our 18 month old daughter was diagnosed with A.L.L. (Acute Lymphoblast ic Leukemia)

This all started a few weeks ago with what we thought was a leg injury from climbing into a chair. She limped for a couple of days but the doctor found no serious injury. Then she stopped walking completely due to the pain in her leg. Then when she began to get fevers off and on with no other symptoms, the doctor ordered a blood test and X-ray. The results of those tests were the beginning of what can only be described as any parent’s worst nightmare. Having to rush her to the emergency room. There, more tests were done. Pediatricians began to break the news to us Thursday night of the likelihood of Megan having Leukemia but the tests Friday would tell us for sure. After the results came back Friday, they took a bone marrow sample and did a spinal tap to check for signs of it there and to also give her a dose of medication to treat her in the event that it had spread to the brain. (The doctors said it was unusual for this to happen) Saturday, the result of the spinal fluid was negative but as expected, her bone marrow was at least 90% Leukemia cells. Megan was put through so much those first few days. Over the weekend she was given lots of fluids, antibiotics, platelets and blood. They also performed surgery on Saturday to place an external catheter, Broviac, into her chest. All of this to prepare for the rigorous schedule of treatments to begin Monday, January 26th. The Doctors told us that this type of Leukemia has an 85% success rate and that she also has several things in her favor so they are very optimistic.

To read more about Megan, visit her website here.

Filed under Family Friday Family Four Diamonds Fund THON Pediatric Cancer