Kiddos don caps and gowns to celebrate five years’ cancer free

Sixteen graduates were recognized for being five years’ cancer free at this year’s Big Event.

Friends+share+emotional+hug+as+they+take+the+stage+together+for+graduation+during+UI+Dance+Marathon+24+at+the+IMU+on+Saturday%2C+Feb.+3%2C+2018.+%28Katie+Goodale%2FThe+Daily+Iowan%29
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Kiddos don caps and gowns to celebrate five years’ cancer free

Friends share emotional hug as they take the stage together for graduation during UI Dance Marathon 24 at the IMU on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018. (Katie Goodale/The Daily Iowan)

Friends share emotional hug as they take the stage together for graduation during UI Dance Marathon 24 at the IMU on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018. (Katie Goodale/The Daily Iowan)

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Katie Goodale

Friends share emotional hug as they take the stage together for graduation during UI Dance Marathon 24 at the IMU on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018. (Katie Goodale/The Daily Iowan)

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Katie Goodale

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Katie Goodale

Friends share emotional hug as they take the stage together for graduation during UI Dance Marathon 24 at the IMU on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018. (Katie Goodale/The Daily Iowan)

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University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics employees entered the IMU Main Lounge in sweeping purple graduation robes as cheers from the audience filled the space.

Soon after, the graduates marched into the room through the center aisle to “Pomp and Circumstance” and climbed the stairs to the main stage. Families and group members followed behind them. Sixteen graduates donned yellow robes, which contrasted starkly to the hospital staff’s purple behind them.

Kathy Jo Whiteside, a child life specialist at the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, introduced family graduates when they received their diplomas, outlining their journey to being cancer free as well as their interests and hobbies.

Graduate Joseph Burken was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 5. At 3 p.m. Feb. 3, he walked across the stage as one of 16 kids who are five-years’ chemotherapy free. His tumor, however, will always be with him.

“I’m five-years’ chemo free, but I’ll never hit remission,” Burkeen, 11, said before he danced onstage with sister Molly in the Limelight Talent show.

When Whiteside introduced Burken, she said he’s been a constant advocate for cancer research even as a kid.

“He has a passion for life, and doesn’t dwell on what he can’t do; instead, he focuses on what he can,” Burken said.

UI student Melissa Trepa graduated five-years cancer free at her third Dance Marathon.

“She can’t wait to graduate from a different stage, the University of Iowa stage next year,” Whiteside said as Trepa was recognized.

One graduate, Dillyn Mumme, spent the summer of 2017 with a co-op working for Johnson Space Center in Houston, pursuing his dream to work with NASA.

“When Dillyn started his journey nine years ago, five-years’ cancer free seemed so far away, like a dream,” Whiteside said, addressing the crowd. “Dance Marathon helped him keep his focus on those dreams. Now, because of you, he is living those dreams.”

For four-year volunteer Michael Caligiuri, the graduation is a testament to everything dancers raise funds for all year.

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