THON Success Stories: A toddler and two unforgettable holiday events

February 21, 2008

York, Pa. -- On Dec. 23, 1986, Tracy Elliott was 2 years old and anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus, not diagnoses of pneumonia, chicken pox and acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

"It’s a Christmas a family never forgets," said Elliott. "My mother said we spent the entire morning of Dec. 23 at the pediatrician’s office."

After her diagnoses were confirmed, Elliott and her family were sent directly to the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, where she was hospitalized for five weeks of treatment before she was considered in remission and able to go home.

The first person who came to the toddler's hospital room was a social worker named Molly. "She told my parents all about Four Diamonds. Molly told my parents the only responsibility they needed to worry about was me. Four Diamonds would cover all medical costs," Elliott explained.

After she was discharged from Hershey Medical Center, Elliott received about two-and-a-half years of follow-up treatment, including chemotherapy.

"Childhood ends and chemo begins," said Elliott. "March 17, 1989, was my last chemo treatment, so needless to say, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day."

A year after her initial diagnosis, 3-year-old Elliott and her family attended their first Penn State Dance Marathon, also known as THON.

"I remember being treated like a princess by the dancers," she recalled. "They would let me squirt them with water guns and carry me on their shoulders while they danced. They would teach me the line dance and have special gifts for us. I loved seeing 'Dancing for Tracy' on the back of a THON dancer's T-shirt. THON was one of the better things about cancer," she said.

"I have pictures of me with (Nittany Lion football players) Kyle Brady and Kerry Collins," she added.

She continued, "Through the years of attending THON we met many families and made many friends. Cancer kids have a bond." But her close connection with THON did not end after she was considered cancer-free.

"While attending Penn State Berks I joined the THON committee," she said. "I canned and went door-to-door for contributions. I am proud to say that I raised the most money for our campus one year."

Now 23 years old, she is a certified occupational therapy assistant for York Hospital (WellSpan).

"Twenty years later, our family still continues to thank the Four Diamonds, THON and the doctors and nurses of Penn State Hershey Medical Center," said Elliott. "I am a childhood cancer survivor because of people like you! Thank you."

Penn State students like Tracy Elliott have raised more than $46 million for pediatric cancer since Penn State's Interfraternity Council (IFC)/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, also known as THON, got its start in 1973. In 2007 alone, Penn State students raised more than $5.2 million through THON to support The Four Diamonds Fund. In addition, in spring 2004 Penn State students pledged to raise $10 million over six years to create the Pediatric Cancer Pavilion at the Penn State Children's Hospital, on the Hershey Medical Center campus. For more details, visit

For more information about Penn State's Dance Marathon, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, visit For details about how The Four Diamonds Fund supports pediatric cancer patients and research, visit

To donate to THON, visit online.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009