In Dance Marathon for life

Gabe Perkins touched the lives of many during his time as a Dance Marathon patient. Even after his passing, Dance Marathon provides support and a family for the Perkins’.

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Gabe Perkins was a young, outgoing boy who’s love for Star Wars and endurance through it all touched the lives of many during his time as a Dance Marathon patient. Even after his passing, Dance Marathon continues to provide support and a family for the Perkins’.
“He was such a wise boy for his age. He was very intelligent and strong and had such an old soul. He was one of the sweetest and most impactful people I have ever gotten the chance to know,” said former dancer and Dance Marathon Child Life Assistant Katie Bryan.

Gabe was admitted to the hospital in April of 2009. It took nearly four weeks for him to receive his diagnosis.

When it finally came through, the doctors diagnosed Gabe with Stage Four Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma, which is a cancer of the muscle tissue.

“Within a couple of days into our stay at the hospital, while Gabe was undergoing a number of procedures, we had students start coming in saying they were a part of Dance Marathon, although we had no idea what that was,” said Gabe’s father Matt Perkins.

“From the beginning Dance Marathon was offering support. They offered to come in and spend time with Gabe, play games with him. They invited us to come join them for family meals,” he said. “It was just an organization that, pretty obvious to us early on, was going to be there to help and be supportive to families that were pretty shell shocked by all that was going on like we were.”

Early on in his treatment, Gabe did a lot of inpatient procedures and as they got him stabilized, moved to more outpatient treatments in the summer of 2009.

Gabe’s treatment changed in the fall of 2009 and he began to be admitted for seven to 10 days at a time.
“We were basically moving into the hospital sometimes for two weeks around this time in his treatment,” Matt said.

It was during this time that Gabe and the Perkins family began to become more involved in Dance Marathon.

“Gabe had his particular preferences for how he wanted something to go. Sometimes he didn’t want to participate at all and sometimes he just wanted someone in there to sit with him. No matter what it was, the Dance Marathon kids were just willing to be there and be by him,” Matt said.

“He enjoyed playing games with the students that would come visit him but he always made up rules that would allow him to win. He did that on me a lot too,” Matt recalled. “They made Gabe the center of their attention. He really looked forward to interacting with them. Unfortunately, his time with them was quite short compared to the amount of time we’ve spent with them.”

Gabe’s mother Leslie Perkins says that even if her son wasn’t always talkative with the dancers, he always appreciated them.

“Whatever the kids want, they make it happen. It is truly all about the kids with Dance Marathon,” Leslie said. “They try and turn everything the kids are going through into a fun experience to the point that my son looked forward to going to the hospital because he knew it wasn’t going to all be poking and prodding.”

Former Dance Marathon dancer and Hospital Director for Dance Marathon Megan Ihrke recalled her first interaction with Gabe.

“They were one of the first families I helped walk through the process of what Dance Marathon is and how we could help,” Ihrke said. “When I first met Gabe he was pretty shy but it didn’t take long for him to become outgoing and show us his personality.”

One memory of Gabe that both the Perkins and Ihrke and Bryan recall fondly is one that touched on his love for Star Wars.

“The Perkins family had had a rough week so I went to the committee and asked if anyone had any ideas on how to cheer them up and someone knew of a comic book store where they had these life size cutouts of Star Wars characters,” Ihrke said. “So we brought them to the hospital for him and his reaction was just priceless. It is one that I’ll never forget. It just kind of shows in such a simple way the impact people can have.”

Matt now keeps those cutouts in his classroom at the middle school he teaches at as a memory of Gabe.

“It was just the little things like that that were not required but done anyways that overwhelmed us with the love and support they offered us,” Matt said.

The Perkins and Gabe were able to attend the Big Event together in February of 2010

“I remember walking into our first Big Event and hearing those thousands of people cheering for us. Hearing them call out ‘Perkins Family, first year’ was so cool and then we heard families being called who had been there 14 years, nearly since the beginning,” Matt said. “Ironically that was the only Dance Marathon we went to where we were not a Dancing in Our Hearts family because we had Gabe with us still.”

Gabe passed away in August of 2010.

Dance Marathon still plays an active part in the Perkins’ lives. Dance Marathon 2017 will be their eighth.

“Dance Marathon doesn’t just drop you. You are a part of the DM family for good which really means a lot to us,” Matt said.

Leslie says Dance Marathon has continued to be impactful.

“After Gabe passed away, Dance Marathon helped out with costs associated with burial and all that. It was a minor help but it was really nice,” she said. “Our girls have also benefited from the Dance Marathon sibling camp where they can remember their brother and meet other kids going through similar things they have.”

The Siblings Oncology Camp is located in Boon, Iowa and Dance Marathon members are counselors of the camp.

“There has been a lot of support for our daughters as siblings which has filled in the gap for us as parents as we went through that time and in the time since,” Matt said.

The Perkins are looking forward to attending the upcoming Big Event.

“One of our hardest moments but one of my favorite moments [from the Big Event] is when they list off every name of every kiddo who has passed away,” Leslie said. “It’s hard to be on that stage and hear them say Gabe’s name as part of that group but it’s also so wonderful to hear that name and know they’ll never stop reading it. His name will always be spoken.”

The Perkins family values Dance Marathon and all they have done for them and continue to do for them.

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