When 11-year-old Bethany Stephens was diagnosed this fall with her second bout of childhood cancer since she was six, staff members at Jessie Clark Middle School called her family and said, “What can we do?”
Her mother Tracy Peck told them that Bethany and her family didn’t have any immediate needs, but suggested that if they wanted to recognize the challenge Bethany faces, they could hold a DanceBlue mini-marathon to raise money for a clinic at UK for other children with cancer.
DanceBlue is a student-run philanthropy at the University of Kentucky — a year-long fundraising effort involving thousands of UK students and others who hold mini-marathons and additional fund-raisers across the state. The effort will culminate in a February 2018, 24-hour no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon on UK’s campus. The event benefits the DanceBlue Kentucky Children’s Hospital Hematology/Oncology Clinic and research at the Markey Cancer Center, its Facebook page said.
With $10,570 in pledges in hand, Jessie Clark students on Tuesday held the DanceBlue mini-marathon in honor of Bethany. Bethany is not currently attending classes because she’s in treatment, but she and her mother came for awhile to watch the event in the school gym. The school’s 1,000 students rotated in and out for most of the day.
“I’m really happy that they are doing it because DanceBlue has been really helpful in my life,” Bethany told the Herald-Leader.
“When they reached out to me, we didn’t need anything, but DanceBlue has been such a part of our lives since her first diagnosis,” said Peck. “I knew that they did these mini-events now and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it would be so much fun. Let’s raise money in Bethany’s honor for the clinic. I’m so touched with how much they raised and how well it all came together.’”
Peck said she felt the same intensity and energy at Jessie Clark’s marathon as at the main event.
DanceBlue has been an active organization since 2006. In 2013, DanceBlue committed $1 million over four years to fund a new clinic to care for the pediatric cancer patients, officials previously said. On Jan. 9, 2017, the new DanceBlue Kentucky Children's Hospital Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic opened, more than doubling the patient care space
Bethany says she is impressed with the new DanceBlue clinic, and the volunteers who visit while she undergoes treatment, making sure she has warm pillows and blankets and even someone to play games with. “The rooms are much nicer,” she said. “What they do is very nice for us.”
Bethany had a cancerous kidney tumor, called Wilms Tumor, when she was 6 and had a kidney removed, her mother said. She was in remission for four years and nine months with no sign of cancer. When she went to the doctor for her sixth grade physical this year to get routine immunizations, doctors discovered cancer in the remaining kidney.
“It was such a surprise to us, we had no idea,” said Peck. “It was a shock,” Peck said, because they had been told that type of cancer, if it returns ,will typically do so within two years, not “five years down the road.”
But this time, Peck said, the cancer was caught early enough that Bethany did not lose the second kidney. Bethany is now undergoing post-surgery chemotherapy, “has done amazing,” and her mother hopes she will be back in school in February.
“We’re taking it day-by-day,” she said.
Jessie Clark Principal Jennifer Kendall said Bethany is giving childhood cancer “a face” for students at the school. “Many of our sixth grade students were in school with her during her first battle that she won. They have really led the charge. The kids have just done an outstanding job.”
Jessie Clark eighth grader Lauren Hayes said she was helping with the mini-marathon because she thought it was important to Bethany to “fight that cancer.”
“I like doing things to help other people,” Bethany told the Herald-Leader, “I especially want to help DanceBlue.”
If you go
The University of Kentucky DanceBlue 2018 marathon will be from 8 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Feb. 17-18 in Lexington’s Memorial Coliseum. The 24-hour no sitting, no sleeping marathon will cap off the year-long fundraising effort to benefit the DanceBlue Kentucky Children’s Hospital Hematology/Oncology Clinic and research at the Markey Cancer Center Over 1,000 students from the University of Kentucky will come together to fight pediatric cancer by standing and dancing for 24 hours, according to the event’s Facebook page. The event is free to the public.