Education

Once a cancer patient, now a dancer at DanceBlue 24-hour fundraiser

University of Kentucky freshman Emily Dawson at the UK Arboretum in Lexington, Ky., on Feb. 24, 2017. Dawson, a cancer survivor will be participating in Dance Blue, the 24 hour dance marathon for cancer awareness and fundraiser for cancer research.
University of Kentucky freshman Emily Dawson at the UK Arboretum in Lexington, Ky., on Feb. 24, 2017. Dawson, a cancer survivor will be participating in Dance Blue, the 24 hour dance marathon for cancer awareness and fundraiser for cancer research. palcala@herald-leader.com

University of Kentucky freshman Emily Dawson became involved with DanceBlue, this weekend’s 24-hour no-sitting, no-sleeping cancer fundraiser dance marathon, in a different way than most of the dancers.

The first time Dawson, 18, had ever heard of DanceBlue was from her hospital bed in December 2013. At 15, she had been diagnosed with a type of bone cancer called osteosarcoma and had to go through nine months of chemotherapy and treatment at Kentucky Children’s Hospital.

One weekend, when she was in the hospital, she watched much of the dance marathon on FaceTime. Then she was discharged from the hospital early so she could attend the last couple of hours of the event.

“Experiencing DanceBlue for the first time in person while going through treatment definitely changed me forever,” Dawson said in her story on the DanceBlue website. “I found it amazing how college students who are already busy enough, spent not just 24 hours, but the whole year, supporting kids with cancer.”

Dawson, whose leg was amputated as a result of the cancer, walks with a prosthetic leg. Her cancer is in remission. Dawson told the Herald-Leader on Friday that she expects to dance for the entire 24 hours, although she will be able to rest if she wants. As many as 954 dancers are expected at the 12th annual dance marathon that kicks off at 8 p.m. Saturday in Memorial Coliseum on UK’s campus and concludes at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Now majoring in nursing, she decided to put together a team for the dance marathon. Everyone on her team has been personally affected by cancer in some way. A couple of her close friends who stuck with her through her treatment are on her team.

DanceBlue is the largest student-run philanthropy at UK — a year-long fundraising effort involving thousands of students, culminating in the dance marathon.

DanceBlue has been an active organization since 2006, raising more than $9.8 million, UK officials said. In 2013, DanceBlue committed $1 million over four years to a new clinic for pediatric cancer patients. On Jan. 9, the DanceBlue Kentucky Children’s Hospital Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic opened, more than doubling patient care space. In 2016, more than 120 student organizations and more than 800 dancers helped raise money to support the cause of pediatric cancer care. All money raised by DanceBlue goes to a fund that benefits the clinic and cancer research.

Last year, DanceBlue raised $1.6 million. Each dancer raises a minimum of $375 and many raise more. High schools host mini-marathons throughout the state, people can donate online, and there are several other fundraising activities throughout the year.

Dawson said she got to know students who are DanceBlue committee members while she was undergoing cancer treatment. They would visit her in the hospital when she was receiving treatment and recovering from surgery, “or just sit down with me while I was in the clinic to talk.”

During treatment, said she had to leave Lexington’s Paul Laurence Dunbar High School for more than a year.

She spent her 16th birthday in the hospital. The hospital staff decorated her hospital room with “sweet 16” decorations.

She lost her hair and for a time, her ability to walk because the tumor was in her leg. “I even lost some friends,” Dawson said. “It was tough.”

But she said she had so many people from the DanceBlue organization visiting her that it almost made her forget why she was in the hospital.

So on Saturday, Emily says, she will dance.

“Since DanceBlue helped me so much as a patient, I wanted to return the favor,” she said in the website story. “I realize that I fought cancer and survived, but many kids do not. I am so grateful to be alive and not only attend the University of Kentucky, but be a part of such a great organization with some of the most amazing people I have ever met.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

If you go

What: DanceBlue dancing marathon

Why: Cancer fundraiser

When: 8 p.m. Saturday-8 p.m. Sunday

Where: Memorial Coliseum, 201 Avenue of Champions (Euclid Avenue). Spectators should use Lexington Avenue entrance.

Admission: Free

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