From pediatric cancer patient to Penn State student, survivor thrives

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- At first glance, Ian Hochberger is your average college student. However, unlike most Penn State students, Hochberger, a senior majoring in broadcast journalism, just attended his 20th consecutive Penn State Dance Marathon to celebrate his success in beating pediatric cancer.

Better known at THON, the 46-hour signature event of the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, was held Feb. 15-17, 2013, in the Bryce Jordan Center on Penn State's University Park campus. Penn State students raised a record-breaking $12.37 million for the Four Diamonds Fund to benefit families and researchers fighting pediatric cancer at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital.

Hochberger was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at 22 months old. Neuroblastoma is a malignant tumor that develops from nerve tissue; additionally, it’s the most common extra-cranial solid cancer in childhood and the most common cancer in infancy, with about 650 cases in the U.S. each year. His tumor covered 40 percent of his chest, had pushed his heart out of place, and was wrapped around his esophagus and trachea. Hochberger was given a three in 20 chance at a normal life.

Because he was so young, he doesn’t remember much, but his parents do. The Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Medical Center helped lift the financial burden so his parents could focus on him, and not worry about more than they had to during his treatment.

Hochberger was adopted by the Four Diamonds Fund quickly after his diagnosis and remains part of Alpha Omicron Pi and Sigma Chi’s THON family. Although pediatric cancer patients helped by the fund are often known as Four Diamonds children, he refers to himself as a “THON kid.”

“THON has been my life, so my perspective of the event may be a little biased,” he said. “THON is really the best organization students can join while at Penn State.”

Hochberger attended Penn State Altoona for his freshman and sophomore years and was head canning chair at the campus during his sophomore year. In that year, their totals increased by 49 percent. When he came to University Park his junior year, he eagerly got involved with the entertainment committee.

“While I was able to be on the floor as much as I wanted, it was neat to combine my major along with the inner workings of THON to really see everything that was going on,” he said.

It seems that Ian Hochberger has seen all sides of THON, and he’s involved because of everything he has been through. Two years ago, Hochberger stayed on his feet for the full 46 hours, representing Penn State Altoona in THON 2011.

“Dancing brought the whole experience full circle for me,” Hochberger said.

Having been at 20 Penn State Dance Marathons, the Hochberger family has many fond memories of the event, but a few stand out as extraordinarily special. Ian’s parents recall when THON raised $1 million for the first time, in 1993. Second, Ian being able to dance was a big moment for his parents, Mark and Linda Hochberger.

Seeing Ian dance for 46 hours, 18 years after his adoption as a Four Diamonds child, was very emotional for them, they said.

Having danced successfully in THON, Ian has a few suggestions for prospective dancers:

-- There is no such thing as being too prepared. Ian started training by running three miles a day as soon as he found out he was dancing.

-- By wearing tube socks throughout THON, dancers can keep leg swelling to a minimum as opposed to wearing ankle socks.

-- Dancers should definitely enjoy the ice bath recommended to them after THON's conclusion, because it really helps with aches and pains, but they shouldn’t use it until they absolutely have to. “The pain relief is quite a tease,” Hochberger said.

-- Dancers should do the "Slides of Strength" massage, as it is known, as much as possible. Hochberger really enjoyed this activity, in addition to the benefit his muscles received from it.

-- Just try to take it all in. “Dancing was one of the best experiences of my life,” Hochberger said. “Those who dance should just try to soak it all up and remember every last part of it.”

The Hochberger family is so thankful for everything the Four Diamonds Fund has done for them, and they encourage all Penn Staters to get involved with this inspiring cause.

THON provides a memorable experience for all Penn State students, his parents noted, adding that students involved with THON gain that wonderful feeling of fulfillment from helping others.

Ian Hochberger couldn’t agree more. He believes he is who he is today because of THON and the challenges he has faced, along with the achievements he has seen students accomplish through the years of the Penn State Dance Marathon.

“Being a part of THON and the memories I have from it will always be thoughts I cherish long past college,” he said. “In the future, I hope to continue helping out in any way I can.”

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Last Updated April 29, 2013