Penn State

Personal connections help drive Thon dancers

CDT photo

If you ask Thon dancers why they dedicate 46 hours to nonstop standing and dancing for the fight against pediatric cancer, each has a story of a personal connection.

Shelley Eisenberg, a senior psychology major from New Rochelle, N.Y., has two.

Before Eisenberg came to Penn State, her mother was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. With her parents divorced, her grandparents in Florida and her brother away at school, she became the sole caretaker of her mom.

“I know what it’s like to occupy a hospital waiting room, and I know what it’s like to hold a loved one’s hand while they are administered chemotherapy,” Eisenberg said.

After enduring a year filled with sickness, chemotherapy and radiation, Eisenberg’s mother was pronounced a cancer survivor.

Then, shortly after she came to Penn State and joined Sigma Delta Tau, one of her sorority sisters and close friends, Courtney O’Bryan, was killed in a car accident while on the way to a Thon canning trip.

Before joining a sorority at Penn State, Eisenberg had no idea what Thon was.

“I remember asking my roommate if FTK was a fraternity,” she said, referring to the slogan “For the Kids.” “But soon after I received my bid I was sent off on my first canning trip, and the world of Thon was introduced to me.”

Keeping in mind her mother’s survival after a brutal battle with cancer and the loss of a close friend who was raising money for Thon, she was hooked.

“I had experienced disease and death in my loved ones, which was painful, but Thon opened me up to disease and death in innocent children,” she said. “In my first year at school I had experienced first-hand the magic of Thon. I have been in love with and invested in Thon ever since.”

Now, four years later, Shelley is keeping these memories close to her heart as she dances nonstop for 46 hours in the Bryce Jordan Center.

Late into the first night, when the 12-hour mark had passed, Shelley was still alive as ever. From hula hooping to singing along to her favorite songs, her spirit was high. “I feel amazing. The pain in my legs doesn’t matter,” said Shelley. “The only thing that matters is that I’m helping make a difference.”