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How does money raised at Penn State Thon fight childhood cancer?

Dance marathon scheduled for this weekend at Bryce Jordan Center

  • Scott LaMar

Aired; February 12th, 2024.


In the U.S., 16,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year, and more children die from cancer than any other disease.

Fighting, researching or finding a cure for childhood cancer is obviously as grave a topic as one could contemplate. But perhaps the annual dance marathon known simply as Thon, at the Bryce Jordan Center on the campus of Penn State University this weekend is one of the most joyful events staged anywhere or any time to raise money for such an illness that can bring so much sadness.

Thon is a 46-hour, non-stop dance marathon that is the world’s largest student-run philanthropy.

Since its inception in 1973, Thon has raised more than $219 million to provide emotional and financial support to children and families that have been impacted by childhood cancer. The money generated by Thon goes to Four Diamonds at Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey.

On The Spark Monday, Suzanna Graney, Executive Director of Four Diamonds at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital, said Four Diamonds has benefited from Thon since 1977,”e have been collaborative partners ever since, making it possible for Four Diamonds to cover the cost of care for all of our Four Diamonds families at, our Children’s Hospital in Hershey. And to be a Four Diamonds family, your child would be diagnosed under the age of 22, living in Pennsylvania and getting your primary oncology care from Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. We are covering all those costs that are not covered by insurance or other means, taking that financial pressure off of the family, because when cancer happens to a child, it happens to the entire family. So the other thing that we’re able to do is provide a lot of support services for the patient and the family members to have everything that they need mentally, socially, emotionally, spiritually as they’re walking this path together. So all of those specialty services like child life and music therapy and art therapy are covered for all of those kids in those families.”

Much of the money raised by Thon goes toward research. Graney added,”Finding new ways to use the current drugs that we have. Finding new applications of new drugs or new therapies using the body’s immune system differently to activate your immune system to fight cancer is one of the biggest things that has happened in the last ten years. It’s been exciting to be on the precipice of new discovery, and to be able to find what we talk about as local research that has a global impact. The research that’s happening in Hershey, Pennsylvania, has the potential to change the world for kids everywhere. We’re really excited because of Thon’s steady support and the community support we’ve been funding, a number of researchers at the Penn State College of Medicine, two of those labs have been funded for more than a decade through Thon and Four Diamond support, and they are both on the cusp of opening clinical trials for kids, in the coming year, which means that what we’ve learned in that lab is now ready to go into patient care.”

Will Vincent, the Executive Director of Thon was asked what makes it special,”It is an entirely student run organization. But on the other side, we also have a tremendous amount of outpouring of support from Penn State alumni, corporate sponsors, and just the overall Penn State community and beyond. So there are students on this campus that work tirelessly all year long. Thon has become so much more than just a weekend in February. So our student volunteers work all year long. But the support that we get from every single person that has heard of Thon’s mission and wanted to push it forward is absolutely tremendous. So it is a huge community that expanded. Its so far out just beyond Penn State’s campus and just State College.”

Last year, Thon raised more $15 million.

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