I’m going to take the liberty to break from my normal roundup of life in Spain, teaching baby English and enjoying the sunshine (and biting cold) and siestas of Spain for the next few minutes.
Back in college, I rarely pulled all-nighters. Hello, I studied journalism, and few sources were up that late. Every first weekend of February, however, I did stay up for 24 hours without sitting, sleeping or drinking alcohol all in the name of pediatric cancer. This was, of course, after raising $425 or more to get in the door, spending hours at morale meetings, visiting kids at the hospital and connecting with other dancers.
Dance Marathon was, by far, the most important student org I ever belonged to.
Imagine your little sister is diagnosed with cancer. You don’t live near a children’s hospital, the bills are piling up, and you can’t go to school. That’s where Dance Marathons – organized at college campuses, elementary schools and in cities across America – step in. Apart from providing research opportunities and providing better facilities for kids, my alma mater also provides emotional support for the families who are coping with childhood cancer.
The child assigned to me was Kelsey. She served as my contact family for my morale group and my sorority for years during her initial battle with bone cancer, then her secondary leukemia, and the relapse that occurred just a few months ago. At 14, I felt a connection with Kelsey and her family that made me feel like I had another cousin or sister. We wrote each other through email, talked occasionally on the phone and met when she came to Iowa City for check-ups.
After repping Kelsey for two years, she was passed onto another sorority sister, but stayed in the family – literally – a sister from two pledge classes above me’s father married into Kelsey’s family. When I moved to Spain, we kept in touch through Facebook and the numerous postcards rumored to be kept safe in her bedroom. She went to technical college, took trips to Iowa City to see the Child Life Specialists and pretty much won the affection of everyone around her. She even made it to her 21st birthday and sent me pictures of her first time out with friends.
“You’re so much braver than anyone I know,” she wrote me in an email just before Christmas. “I really have to come visit you in Spain to see why it is you’re still there.” I promised to call her once she was out of surgery for some build-up in fluids around her lungs, an effect of her current treatment. She was supposed to watch the bowl game, as she loved the Hawkeyes like I do, and then be operated on.
The following day, she passed away.
I always said I’d never have to be one of those dancers who had to remember a child through a memorial candle that burns during the 24-hour event, claiming the child is dancing in my heart. As the DJ gets the crowd going at 7pm CST tomorrow (2am in Spain), Kelsey will be one of the children honored by that candle.
I lost two friends to cancer in 2011, so I’m asking those of you who follow my blog to consider learning about Dance Marathons (there’s one in Chicago), dancing in one, or even donating a few bucks to kids like Kelsey and her family that spend holidays in the hospital and can’t live a normal life like most of us enjoy. If you donate anything, please let me know via personal message or in the comments, and I’ll be sure to send you a postcard from Spain (be honest, it’s For The Kids!!).
Our morale dance in 2006, the year I suited up in red ended with the now well-worn mantra of Iowa’s Dance Marathon: A dream for every child, a dance for every heart. I sure take it to my own little heart, so please consider a small donation to make miracles happen for kids across the Midwest.