University of Iowa Dance Marathon raises $880,903 for cancer

cancer awarenessIowa City, Ia. - Kara Meiborg told her 2-year-old son, Max, that they were going to a party in his honor.

The Cedar Rapids boy, whose hair is sparse and downy from chemotherapy, paraded in front of more than 1,000 college students, all cheering and clapping as the Meiborg family's name was read on a loudspeaker, along with the names of dozens of other families battling cancer.

"They loved it," Kara Meiborg said of her sons, Max, and Ozzie, 4. "They thought it was great."

The University of Iowa Dance Marathon is more than a 24-hour gig, organizers said. The year-long, student-run organization adopts families to stay in touch with year-round, runs a play group every week at the Children's Hospital and holds family events four times a year in locations across the state.

The fundraising dance, fueled - it seems - by caffeine, Icy Hot, goofy outfits, adrenaline, and love for children, ended Saturday night with $880,903 raised for the Children's Hospital of Iowa.

College students, who often get a bad rap as slackers and party animals, stayed on their feet from 7 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Saturday to raise money that will be used to provide emotional and financial support to the families of children being treated for cancer and other diseases.

The U of I organization, in conjunction with the Children's Miracle Network, has raised more than $5 million since 1994 and has inspired similar events at Iowa State University and other colleges in Iowa.

"It was a great experience," said Emily Fauquet, 22, a U of I senior from Ames, after finishing the event.

Travis Bushaw, Dance Marathon executive director, first participated in the event when he was a freshman.

"I joined Dance Marathon not exactly knowing what I was doing," the 22-year-old Strawberry Point native said. "I just knew it helped kids and the Children's Miracle Network."

Bushaw's four-year involvement with the event has changed the way he thinks about cancer, which kills about 6,000 Iowans each year.

"I used to think of cancer and the way to cure it," he said. "We want a cure, but while it's still around, we need to help families deal with it. We're showing there's a whole other side to fighting cancer."

Dance Marathon is a major contributor to projects at the Iowa Children's Hospital.

Last year's total of $686,000 went to things like laptop computers, so children undergoing cancer treatment can stay in touch with their classes at home, and iPods and game systems, to distract children who are getting spinal taps. Dance Marathon funds also provided scholarships for cancer patients to attend the U of I, research grants to Iowa doctors and a medical fellowship for a pediatric oncologist at University Hospitals.

"Dance Marathon does a tremendous job of supporting the fight against cancer because they invest in the present, the future and give this emotional support to patients," said Dr. Fred Goldman, a pediatric oncologist at the U of I.

Goldman has attended Dance Marathon for years with his patients and their families. Last year, the 49-year-old doctor decided to participate as a dancer and set a new fundraising record of more than $4,500.

Hundreds of families who attend Dance Marathon say it's about more than the money.

Heather Reyes remembers how Nicole Shaw, now a U of I graduate, and other Dance Marathon members visited her son, Gasper, over several years when he was in the hospital for treatments for Hodgkins lymphoma.

"He fell in love with them instantly," Reyes said.

The disease took Gasper's life on Jan. 7, 2006. He was 12 years old.

Gasper was one of about 90 former patients who have died since Dance Marathon began in 1994. Their names were read during the last hour of the marathon, and a slideshow of their pictures made the college students cry.

"I just want to say thank you to all you dancers," Reyes told the crowd Saturday night. "It's not just about the money. It's about the emotional support you give the families."

source Des Moine Register 


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