THON Success Stories: Penn Stater survives cancer, returns favor

February 20, 2008

By Kari Ann Lucas

I just had completed my freshman year of college at Penn State, and also my first complete season on the Penn State softball team, when I was diagnosed on June 4, 2004, with leukemia at the age of 19. I was working on the Penn State grounds crew when I noticed a rash on my right ankle. I went in to get it checked and the doctor thought I was just allergic to something. I went a week with taking some medicine and it cleared up. The following weekend I had developed swollen lymph nodes on my neck. As I was going in to have my last checkup to be cleared, I decided, while walking out the door that I should say something.  I almost didn't! Blood work was drawn and I was told within a few hours that I had cancer.

The trip to Hershey began. I was in the Hershey Medical Center for 87 days going through four rounds of chemotherapy, from June until October, to kill the cancer. It was one of the toughest, and also one of the best, experiences I have endured thus far.

I grew close with many of the other cancer patients ranging in age from 2 years old to 24 years of age. Age is certainly diminished when you are fighting for your life. We were each other's crutch. I could never thank them enough for helping me. My doctors and nurses were also my heroes and guardian angels. I was truly blessed. My family was my rock. I had the greatest support in the world. This entire experience was extremely difficult for my parents because they, in all actuality, couldn't do a thing about my cancer. What I showed them was that I believed that I was going to be OK, and that God had a plan for me. I just knew that I had too much left to do, and it wasn't my time to go. I also knew that this experience someday would help me with my true passion, which was helping people. I fought cancer, and came back stronger then ever.

After I was declared in remission on Oct. 14, 2004, I began to get things back together in my life. I took an online class while I was sick to try to keep up as much as I could. I also tried to keep in shape as much as I could, but the chemo really killed my body, muscles and the ability to work out like I was used to. I loved running so only being able to walk a few steps a day was very tough for me to deal with. After my treatments I began the long process of getting back in school, and in softball shape. I wanted to be ready to go for both that following spring. I wanted to prove to myself and to others that I could be back to 100 percent in three months. Never have I ever worked so hard for something in my life.

The first time I stepped on the track after cancer was one to remember. I stood there with my bald head, my running shoes laced up, and a dream that filled my heart. That day I wanted to run an entire lap around the track without stopping. I did it, but never did I think it would be that hard. After I crossed the line, I put my hands on my knees and cried. This was going to be the biggest mountain I would have to climb, one even bigger then beating cancer itself. Each day I added a lap and each day I pushed myself harder. Finally, just in time for the start of our spring season I was ready to go. Looking back I smile, remembering just what a challenge it was -- a challenge I am so very grateful that I had to face. I love to stay up late and wake up extra early. I try not to worry about the little things and I also never want to take a day for granted. I love laughing and I love spontaneous adventures. After re-enrolling that spring I had an added passion for helping people.

During treatments I became a Four Diamonds child.  As many of you know the Four Diamonds organization is funded mainly by THON. I became interested in this great fundraising as a freshman, but the passion I had after battling cancer is unexplainable. In the fall of my junior year I was an entertainment captain, and the following year I was a communications captain for THON. I cannot describe how special it was to be able to help families, just like my own, out with so many things while their child was battling for their life. I wanted to give back to Hershey and The Four Diamonds Fund for saving my life and helping my family out with many potential financial burdens (gas money, places to stay, food vouchers). Penn State, the students at Penn State, the doctors, nurses, my family and friends helped save my life, and I am forever grateful!

Today, I am working as a staff assistant in the Morgan Center for Student-Athletes at Penn State.  I love working with the life-skills program, which involves getting athletes involved with THON fundraising, the PENN PAL program, speaking engagements, and working with local charities. Coaching is also a passion of mine. I currently am coaching junior high basketball and also assisting with varsity softball at a local high school. I love going to charity events to speak about my story as well. I really do believe it is a miracle, and if I can just give one person in the audience faith and encouragement, then I feel as though I have done my part!

Penn State students like Kari Ann Lucas have raised more than $46 million for pediatric cancer since Penn State's Interfraternity Council (IFC)/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, known as THON, got its start in 1973. Last year alone students raised more than $5.2 million to support The Four Diamonds Fund.

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.

  • Kari Ann Lucas

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 18, 2010