In 23 days, begins yet another annual event, which has been close to my heart since I first heard its name: THON.
For many, hearts flutter at the sound of the word, the feeling of the word, the love of the word. But also for many, the other side of THON is lost. THON is Penn State’s annual fundraiser for kids with cancer, and the charity culminates in a 46-hour long no sleeping, no sitting dance marathon for a lucky 708 Penn State students.
At the event itself, held one weekend every February, a feeling of celebration and overwhelming love and support is absolutely real and tangible. Throughout the year though, this is not the case for all families who have a child with cancer. Money is tight, and the family tension is dense. Cancer does a lot more than negatively affect one’s body: it changes all the lives around it.
Sure, we can donate money over at THON.org, now if you feel so inclined, but what I ask is this: don’t just dance with the kids February 15-17. Don’t just talk to them or play because it’s fun. Try to understand what they and their families are going through, and why this weekend means so much to them. Understand that you will never fully understand what they are going through, just as those who never attend THON will never understand what we experience every February in the BJC. This year, don’t just Dance For The Kids…
Dance For The Families.
Bearing all this in mind, please enjoy a poem I’ve written, which I hope sheds light on the other side of THON, the reason why we THON, why we interact with families year-round, and why we truly do everything we do For The Kids.
Cancer Never Answers The Phone
Cancer is not a joke.
It is not breathed heartily
Into a microphone on a stage
And readily received
And laughed at by a happy, carefree crowd.
It is real.
It is dense,
Like a heavy, smoke-filled cloud,
Which is forced deep into the lungs.
It deprives you of oxygen,
And everything that is the very essence of life.
For what else drops your knees to the ground
And your jaw to the floor,
Makes your breath stutter
And your hopes flutter
Away, evaporating, dissipating,
Up into thin air?
What else can make a grown man cry,
Grow a boy up into a man,
Take a boy up to the Man?
Its jaws sink deep into the flesh of life,
Tearing away at what used to be,
And leaving behind only remnants.
Confused, abused remains
Tell of the perfect past that once was:
We refuse to recognize all that was lost,
In an attempt to ignore
That has replaced it,
Darkening even the brightest corner of the room.
Life becomes dark, but mostly hard,
For The Kids.
Phone calls are hard.
Eating is hard.
Living is hard.
‘Don’t you know it’s hard
Living with a devil on your back?’
No one answers.
Life goes on.
Somehow life goes on.
Father goes to work.
Mother stays home.
The children go to school,
Lunch boxes in the front pockets of their backpacks,
#2 pencils in the side pockets.
Some pencils are sharp,
Some less so,
Like the painful thoughts you still endure daily.
‘But with time, they will dull,’ they say.
‘But will they really?’ you wonder.
A pencil can be whittled down in the end,
A pencil can disappear,
Be disposed of,
These memories will not.
These emotions will not.
Cancer will not.
And even if the cancer goes away,
Will the fear?
These questions you ask will surprise you
Until maybe even you despise you.
But you’ve lost sight of one important part, you see.
This dark monster,
He may have darkened the corners of the room,
Like the corners of your mind,
But he has not taken from us
The demon is no match for this angel,
For Hope burns like a thousand flames,
Brightens even the darkest room,
Lifts knees from the ground
And frowns into smiles.
So many days you ask the monster,
For you have traversed the darkest places,
And felt the deepest hurt;
You have struggled to find your breath
In a dense and burning smog;
You have fallen to the lowest of lows,
And wondered how you will rise again.
For these days when your heart whispers Why,
And you beg for that monster, Cancer,
To answer the ring-ring-ringing phone instead,
Remember that Cancer never answers the phone,
But Hope will always answer this:
You have held your eyes open in darkness
Such that you might see when light appears.
You have lost your breath, again and again,
Such that you might find it full once more.
You have fallen hard to the ground,
Such that you might look around to see:
You have not fallen alone.
You have fallen with family,
And all of you together,
With a light and hope and strength,
Will rise again,
Lighter, and more hopeful,
And even stronger than before
The doctor first said,