Families hope new THON documentary will inspire others in cancer fight

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- At just 8 years old, Ashley Fazekas is a veteran of Penn State’s annual dance marathon, better known as THON.

“THON is the best place ever!” said Ashley, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) as a toddler, and had her last treatment at the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital four years ago. Ashley, a brown-haired girl with purple wire-frame glasses, plans to dance at her seventh THON in February.

Ashley’s parents, Elaine and John Fazekas of Maytown, Pa., hope a new Penn State Public Broadcasting documentary about THON will inspire others to join the battle against childhood cancer. “Why We Dance: The Story of THON” is a behind-the-scenes look at the annual student-run event, which has raised more than $88 million to fight pediatric cancer over the past 40 years. The documentary chronicles a year of preparations by some 15,000 student volunteers, and introduces viewers to families helped by THON.

The 60-minute documentary will air at 8 p.m. Eastern time tonight (Sept. 27) on WPSU-TV and public television stations across Pennsylvania, and worldwide through a live, online stream of the premiere at wpsu.org/. It will be posted to Vimeo and YouTube at 9 p.m. Eastern time.

For all air times and more information, go to http://wpsu.org/thondocumentary online.

Dozens of families supported by THON’s beneficiary, the hospital’s Four Diamonds Fund, attended a recent premiere of the documentary at the Hershey Theatre. Money raised by THON pays bills not covered by insurance for the families of pediatric cancer patients, provides support services such as music therapists and social workers, and funds cancer research.

“It’s such an amazing thing – a bunch of college kids spending their hours and days and nights putting together this thing that most adults couldn’t do,” said Laura Trimble of Willow Street, Pa., whose 5-year-old daughter Ella completed all her treatments a year ago.

Barbara Miller, chief of pediatric hematology at the hospital, said that with federal dollars dwindling, private philanthropy is increasingly important in the race to increase the cure rate for childhood cancer, currently about 80 percent. “That’s really our goal, to stamp out pediatric cancer,” she said.

“Penn State has done so much,” said Shayne Beecher of Lancaster, Pa., whose 4-year-old son Charlie is featured in the documentary. “Imagine what the whole country can do.”

For more information about THON, visit http://thon.org.

Penn State Public Broadcasting (PSPB) serves central Pennsylvania with programming, educational services and community outreach. Penn State Public Broadcasting is part of Penn State Outreach, the largest unified outreach organization in American higher education. Penn State Outreach serves more than 5 million people each year, delivering more than 2,000 programs to people in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, all 50 states and 115 countries worldwide.
 

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Last Updated September 27, 2012