When Penn State’s Thon kicks off Friday, Kristen Hayes of Boiling Springs will be among the more than 16,500 student volunteers who will see months of planning and fundraising come together in a 46-hour no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon in State College to show support for families battling cancer.
Seven years ago, Hayes became part of one of those families.
The daughter of Tom and Sharon Hayes of Boiling Springs, Kristen Hayes was in middle school when her brother, Colin, was diagnosed with cancer. His diagnosis changed the family’s life and forged a connection with the Four Diamonds Fund that has driven her volunteer efforts.
Four Diamonds, which receives the proceeds from Thon, funds cancer research and ensures that families do not see a medical bill.
Kristen channeled the devastation she felt at her brother’s diagnosis into starting the Mini-Thon at Boiling Springs High School. She continued her fundraising efforts for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State, where she is a sophomore studying advertising and public relations.
She plans to continue volunteering for Thon with the hope of becoming a captain and director. While she isn’t sure what she will do after college, Kristen said she wants to continue with philanthropic work and supporting Thon and Four Diamonds.
Colin has been cancer-free for almost six years and is now a first-year medical student at Penn State College of Medicine with the goal of becoming a pediatric oncologist.
Q. How was life at home before your brother’s cancer diagnosis?
A. Life at home was fairly normal. We were just like any other typical family. My life pretty much consisted of attending all of my brothers sporting events. I was in middle school at the time and was involved in several different clubs and field hockey, but didn’t really find my niche yet.
Q. Would you tell us about the day you found out that he had cancer and how that changed everything?
A. Friday, May 13, 2011, is a day that I will never forget. I knew beforehand that Colin was having pain in his ribs, but never thought it would turn out to be something like cancer.
I went to school like any other normal day. I remember I was sitting in my English class and I saw my dad’s car outside of the window in front of my school. I was confused because I knew my dad went to work this morning and I didn’t remember my parents saying anything about coming to school. Little did I know, my brother and parents were on their way to an appointment that would change my family forever.
After school got out, I walked to the local pizza shop with my friends. This was when I got a phone call from my mom. She sounded stern and quiet. I thought she was mad at me and I was trying to think of anything I did wrong to get in trouble recently. She told me to come home immediately.
As I was walking up my driveway my dad and sister came running outside. My sister wailed, “Colin has cancer.”
I became numb. I walked inside to find my mom who then confirmed that my 15-year-old older brother, in fact, had bone cancer. I ran up to my room and starting Googling bone cancer and the survival rates.
The rest of the school year was somewhat of a blur. It consisted of numerous different appointments and visits to Hershey. These appointments and visits continued into the summer. My sister and I spent our first day of summer vacation in clinic to support Colin during his first chemo treatment in the clinic.
My family tried to maintain normalcy as much as possible, but it was hard. When Colin had his five-day hospital stays to receive chemotherapy, one parent was there with him while the other was at home taking care of my sister and I. When Colin was home from treatment, he was recovering and we had to remain very cautious. Even with a slight cold, we had to wear medical masks because of the risks that a common cold could have on Colin’s weak immune system.
Q. How did the Four Diamonds fund help your family?
A. It was during one of Colin’s first visits to Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital that my parents were approached by a social worker from Four Diamonds. They informed my family that we were to become a Four Diamonds Family and told them about Thon at Penn State. Four Diamonds covered everything that insurance did not for Colin’s treatment. Not only did we never see a medical bill, all supplemental medications were covered, gas cards and meal vouchers were provided for hospital stays, we were provided with superior caregivers and other staff and we were able to join this huge, loving family that we call Thon.
Q. How have you been preparing for Thon?
A. This year, I have had the privilege to serve on the Crowd Entertainment Committee. We have been working on planning various activities and games to engage and hype the crowd all throughout Thon weekend. My specific role in my committee is working with the pep rally captains to plan and execute the pep rally on Saturday night of Thon.
Additionally, I have been fundraising for my business fraternity, Phi Chi Theta, by sending Thonvelopes, going on a canning trip, holding a Thon chair position in my pledge class, and participating in various other Thon fundraisers.
Q. What message would you give the sibling of a child who has been diagnosed with cancer?
A. One of the greatest things I took away from this experience is the idea that everything happens for a reason. I would not be who I am today without going through this experience with my family. Becoming involved with Thon and Four Diamonds is the greatest thing that has happened to me. It has provided me with so much inspiration and passion to help others and give back to an organization that saved my family.
As for being a sibling of a child who has been diagnosed, I know it can feel like there is nothing that you can do to help, but for me personally that is where I channeled my desire to fundraise for Thon and Four Diamonds. One of the other greatest things I took away from this experience is how to find the light in a negative situation. Obviously a cancer diagnosis is devastating, but instead of sulking in the fact that my brother had cancer, I decided that I needed to give back. This is when I decided to start a Mini-Thon in my school district.
So I guess my overall message would be to stay positive because you never know what can come out of a situation like this. I am not sure where I would be right now without going through this chapter of my life, but I know now that I belong at Penn State fundraising for Thon.