STATE COLLEGE, CENTRE COUNTY - Hundreds of students will soon crowd the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State to dance the night away-for THON. THON is a dance marathon to raise awareness and money to fight pediatric cancer.
It is a special event for a special little girl named Emily Whitehead.
WTAJ News introduces us to Emily, who hopes to dance herself one day - and how this marathon helped save her life.
It was Memorial Day weekend 2010. Then 5 years old, Emily Whitehead was getting bruises and nosebleeds. When a doctor tested her blood, Emily's life and the lives of her family changed forever.
The clock was ticking for Emily Whitehead. Just after her 5th birthday, Emma, as she's affectionately known, began an unprecedented fight for more time. Emma's mom Kari Whitehead had to do the unthinkable.
"How am I going to tell Emily that she has leukemia?"
Emma's parents had to deliver that tragic news. She had leukemia. It meant 26 months of chemotherapy. But doctors told Kari that she had the most common kind found in children, giving her a good chance at survival.
"They said she has an 85-90 percent chance of being cured"
The plan was to hit the disease hard with chemotherapy, and knock her immune system down. Doctors said the first month would be the worst, and then she should bounce back. Their world now shattered, Emma's dad Tom says he and Kari made a pact.
"...No matter what we're thinking, we will never in front of her show any weakness, and this is what we're gonna do from here on out until we beat it."
The first weekend with chemo, Emily stopped breathing one night. Two weeks in, she developed leg infections. She was moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit
By the end of the month the infections had gone down, and the family was actually celebrating getting back to the oncology department. Emily was well enough go home. Doctors tested her blood every month- and every month the results were fine for 17 months, then Kari Whitehead got more bad news.
"She did 17 months of chemotherapy when we found out that she relapsed."
That was in October, 2011, Tom Whitehead drove his family back to Hershey the next day.
"It's back, and it takes your percentage of being cured down to about 30%, and now you're high risk, so you need a bone marrow transplant to fix things"
The new plan, more chemo and a bone marrow transplant in February, 2012. But again, Kari got bad news.
"Two weeks before her scheduled bone marrow transplant we found out she had relapsed again."
Now, here's where THON and the dancing come in...
The Four Diamonds Fund is where the THON money goes. It supported the Whiteheads through it all. Financially where the insurance stopped, and emotionally... Because now Emma was no longer eligible for a bone marrow transplant. Her chances of surviving were dismal.
The whiteheads were almost out of options, as time was running out.
After all of that, the Whiteheads had to make an unimaginable decision to try and save Emily's life. It's something that's never been done before. And they'd need THON more than ever. Check out part 2 of this story for more.