By the age of 7, Gavin Howe had endured more than most people do in a lifetime.
After being diagnosed with T-Cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in October 2012, he has been on 10 chemotherapy drugs, has been injected with chemotherapy treatments in his thigh 24 times, had 10 blood transfusions, been on high-dose steroids, had 11 admissions to the hospital and spent more than 60 nights in a hospital bed.
Though he has never complained about his condition, his mother, Cindy Howe, recently told him she can’t wait for the day when he’s better and they never have to look back to this time.
“But mommy, can we look back at Thon?” he asked.
“Yes, baby,” she replied. “We can always took back at Thon.”
The Howe family was one of four to speak Sunday during family hour at the 2014 IFC/Panehellenic Dance Marathon, a time dedicated to Four Diamonds Fund families and their stories.
For the Beltz family, the disease took hold even sooner.
Xander Beltz was diagnosed at only 18 months old. His family was moved from place to place, finally landing at Hershey Medical Center, where his mother, Dava, refused to leave his side.
He was only given a 50 percent chance to survive, and began a six-month treatment program.
One night, Dava Beltz and her husband, Dave, finally left the hospital to get some dinner at a restaurant. After listening to their story, the bartender refused to let them pay for the meal, Dava Beltz said. She found out later that he also took their $20 tip and gave it to a Thon canner.
“What you dance for year after year is making a difference, and every effort is worth it,” she told the packed Bryce Jordan Center.
Xander Beltz has now spent almost five years without cancer treatment.
While many stories end in triumph for families who beat cancer, there are also many that don’t have happy endings.
Bret and Susan Sidler attended Thon to speak on behalf of their son, Eli, who couldn’t be there to speak for himself. Eli Sidler lost his battle with cancer in 2012.
The 16-year-old was nicknamed “chemowarrior” because of his persistence in battling the disease that would ultimately claim his life.
Bret Sidler said Eli always lived life to the fullest. He would always smirk and subtly brag to his friends whenever he would go to State College, saying he would be hanging out with several college girls.
Though Eli passed away, Bret Sidler said the Four Diamonds Fund was an immense help throughout his son’s life.
When they first went to a pharmacy to pick up Eli’s medicine, the cashier asked for $2,700. When he mentioned that they were a Four Diamonds Family, the pharmacist told him to just sign for the medicine each time because it would be taken care of.
After Eli’s death, the family got a call from the insurance company saying he had exceeded his lifetime care limit of $2 million and there was still an outstanding debt of $30,000. The family never saw that bill, either. It was taken care of by the Four Diamonds Fund.
Eli is gone, but Bret Sidler knows his memory is carried on in the minds and hearts of all the Thon participants and that thought gives him comfort.
“Knowing that you carry our children in your hearts gives us the strength to stand here and say thank you, from the bottom of our hearts,” he said.