Dance Marathon volunteer to graduate five years cancer free

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Dance Marathon volunteer to graduate five years cancer free

Melissa Trepa, a junior at the University of Iowa, poses for a portrait in front of the Stead Family Children's Hospital on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. Trepa, a survivor of Hodgkin's lymphoma, celebrated her fifth year in remission this past October. She is participating in the UI Dance Marathon for the third year in a row, this weekend. (Matthew Finley/The Daily Iowan)

Melissa Trepa, a junior at the University of Iowa, poses for a portrait in front of the Stead Family Children's Hospital on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. Trepa, a survivor of Hodgkin's lymphoma, celebrated her fifth year in remission this past October. She is participating in the UI Dance Marathon for the third year in a row, this weekend. (Matthew Finley/The Daily Iowan)

The Daily Iowan; Photo by Matthe

Melissa Trepa, a junior at the University of Iowa, poses for a portrait in front of the Stead Family Children's Hospital on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. Trepa, a survivor of Hodgkin's lymphoma, celebrated her fifth year in remission this past October. She is participating in the UI Dance Marathon for the third year in a row, this weekend. (Matthew Finley/The Daily Iowan)

The Daily Iowan; Photo by Matthe

The Daily Iowan; Photo by Matthe

Melissa Trepa, a junior at the University of Iowa, poses for a portrait in front of the Stead Family Children's Hospital on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. Trepa, a survivor of Hodgkin's lymphoma, celebrated her fifth year in remission this past October. She is participating in the UI Dance Marathon for the third year in a row, this weekend. (Matthew Finley/The Daily Iowan)

Maria Kuiper, [email protected]

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Dance Marathon’s Big Event is special for dancers and survivors, but one student happens to identify as both.

University of Iowa junior Melissa Trepa will “graduate” Feb. 3, which will be her third time dancing at Dance Marathon’s Big Event as she celebrates five years of no cancer.

“When I watch her walk across the stage, I know that cap and gown will mean more than her beating cancer,” Trepa’s friend Taralynn Young said. “It will symbolize all the time, energy, and passion she has put into impacting the families and this organization as a whole.”

When she was 15, Trepa was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She had Stage 2 bulky disease — a tumor in her neck and chest. She went through five blood transfusions, five surgeries and biopsies, six rounds of chemo, and three months of radiation. In October 2017, Trepa passed the five-year anniversary for the remission of her cancer.

RELATED: 17 cancer-free kiddos graduate

Since Trepa has seen both sides of the experience, she perceives Dance Marathon differently from most.

“The spirit and sense of community is indescribable,” she said. “It’s like Disney, only for children battling cancer. I like how proud and happy everyone is and the emotion of graduation, people cutting their hair, hearing the kids we lost, the families who speak every hour, the crazy dancing for 24 hours. It’s like a big celebration of life and for those who are no longer with us.”

As well as raising money for the kids, this year, Trepa gets to experience the Big Event as a survivor when she walks across the stage as a “graduate” from cancer.

“The graduation is a celebration that your cancer hasn’t relapsed and the likelihood of a continued recovery is strong,” she said.

Trepa said she is thankful for the organization.

“The organization reminds me of my experience and that of my friends and how precious and perfect life is, even in the struggle of the day-to-day,” she said. “It helps remind me how grateful I am to be here and keeps me grounded in what matters most in life.”

One of those friends is Young, a UI senior who met Trepa through Dance Marathon. Young was a family representative for Trepa and has worked with her on Dance Marathon since.

Young knew Trepa wanted to give back by supporting families, dancers, and leadership members in the organization.

“Melissa was a bright light of positivity, encouragement, and hope on the leadership team last year and truly made my first year on leadership memorable,” Young said.

Young said Trepa has been her motivation for continuing Dance Marathon.

RELATED: Celebrating the end of a long journey

“Through meeting Melissa, I have definitely found my ‘why’ for why I dance and why I continue to be involved in Dance Marathon,” she said. “In my mind, Melissa truly embodies the phrase ‘one generation fighting for the next.’ ”

Another member of Dance Marathon who has seen the light and positivity Trepa emits is UI senior Maddy Woodfine, the event director. Woodfine, who has been involved with Dance Marathon the entire time she has been a student at the university, said Trepa is inspirational.

“It’s crazy how she can balance so many things,” Woodfine said. “It’s incredible how she’s been through it and then is giving back to other families.”

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