Penn State

Thon experience helps dancer connect with family over her own cancer battle

Natalie Keller, left, relied on support from her dance partner Katie Yannarell, family and friends to dance for 46 hours this weekend at Penn State’s IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon.
Natalie Keller, left, relied on support from her dance partner Katie Yannarell, family and friends to dance for 46 hours this weekend at Penn State’s IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon. sannarelli@centredaily.com

There are a few essentials to dancing for 46 straight hours, one of them being motivation.

The inspiration to accomplish that feat is as important as simple things like hydrating, stretching and healthy eating.

Natalie Keller, a Penn State senior in the Schreyer Honors College, was 6 months old when she was diagnosed with Langerhans cell histiocytosis. The rare form of cancer develops too many white blood, which may cause tumors to form.

Looking back, she said, there’s nothing she remembers from her battle against cancer.

“Before I got involved here, I never understood the impact it had on my family,” Keller, a 2017 Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon dancer, said.

Her reasons for dancing were sparked by her parents and the Tyler Miller family. Tyler is Schreyer’s Thon child, meaning the group supports him in his fight against cancer.

“Last year, I spent time in stands with our Thon child’s mother, and when I hugged her I felt like I was hugging my own mom,” Keller said. “I really felt like I could see my parents in Tyler’s parents and that was what did it. They’re so incredible and kind to us. Being able to do this for them is so meaningful and something little to show that I care about them.”

It also wasn’t until Keller met the Millers that she realized the effect her cancer battle had on her family.

“(I wanted to do this) to thank my parents for taking care of me when I was younger,” she said. “I never understood the impact of my disease until I came here, because I don’t remember any of it.”

There were also a few people that helped her complete the 46 hours.

Natalie’s twin sister, Stephanie, surprised her during Thon weekend.

“We waited a long time today to get down on the floor (to see Natalie),” Stephanie Keller said. “So, I think all of my energy picked up when I knew I’d finally get to see her.”

“I didn’t think she was here, and then she called me and told me to turn around and she was right there,” Natalie Keller said. “Then I saw her, and it was shocking. It was a super surprise, and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Natalie Keller’s dancer partner Katie Yannarell and their dancer relations committee members, who keep dancers motivated, also kept each other dancing.

“A lot of people, when they found out we were dancing together, said we’d be a really good match,” Yannarell said.

Their friends turned out to be right.

“Our energy and positivity balances each other out and makes us really compatible to take care of each other,” Yannarell said. “We’ll talk about what did you eat last, have you drank enough water, when should we do stretching. We’ve kept each other accountable.”

Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, @Shawn_Annarelli

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