THON Never Ends
Crystal Bryan is a cancer survivor who battled leukemia in 1996 when she was 11-years old. Prior to being diagnosed, Crystal was very athletic. She was involved in cheerleading, cross-country, and track and field. She describes herself has a girl who was interested in normal kid stuff – like going to Disney World and playing with Barbies.
Crystal got diagnosed on her third day of the 6th grade. She did not feel well a couple weeks prior to her start of middle school, but her mom thought she was just faking it. Her mother then took her to the doctor as soon as she realized something was wrong. They found out she had leukemia that way. Crystal was out of school for four months.
When she got diagnosed, Crystal and her mother were immediately introduced to Penn State Milton S. Hersey Medical Center, the Four Diamonds Fund, and The Penn State Dance Marathon (THON). The Four Diamonds Fund helps kids fight cancer through financial support, team support, and research support. The goal is to cover expenses for families so parents do not have to worry about medical bills during their child’s fight against cancer. The Four Diamonds fund is widely known for THON – the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, where students take part in a no-sitting, no-sleeping 46-hour dance marathon.
At first, Crystal says the idea of THON was not appealing to her. It was not until Penn State students visited the hospital when she realized THON was something to look forward to. Crystal made an instant bond with one of the THON 1996 captains in the hospital, and he arranged for her to be paired with his organization for the duration of her treatment.
Throughout her battle, it was just Crystal and her mother. Crystal’s dad passed away when she was six, and her much older brothers were already out of the house. Crystal says the bond she had with her mother is what got her through it all.
She says, “I don’t think I ever fully respected or understood what she went through every day until I became a single mom myself.”
Crystal is now a mother of three children – but it’s not just the four of them living together. Crystal recently moved into a house with her boyfriend and his two children. Crystal and Luis have been together for two years, but they met at THON back in 1998. Nothing happened between the two back then, but they reconnected in January of 2012 when Luis saw Crystal’s Facebook post about her anniversary of being cancer-free. Shortly after meeting at a Penn State football game, they went on their first date to Sesame Place with their kids. The seven of them now live under one roof. Luis has an eight-year-old and a ten-year-old. Crystal has a four-year-old, a six-year-old, and a ten-year old.
Crystal goes on to explain how having cancer as a child affects her parenting.
“Every bruise or fever that my kids get – I freak out inside. You don’t ever know. My mom thought I had the flu, and I had leukemia.”