Dance Marathon 25 celebrates 5-year cancer-free children

The 25th anniversary of Dance Marathon kept the tradition a ‘kiddo graduation’ alive to celebrate children who are five-years cancer-free.


Lily Smith

Dance Marathon graduate Cody Cohen poses for a photo during Dance Marathon 25 at the IMU on Saturday, February 2, 2019. Cohen graduates from being diagnosed with a rare blood cancer at age 17.

Alexandra Skores, News Reporter

During the Dance Marathon’s 25th anniversary, 12 children were honored on the afternoon of Feb. 2 for reaching five years of being cancer free.

Every year, a ceremony is held on the second day of Dance Marathon to commemorate children who have gone five years without treatment. Families lined the stage to watch their children receive a diploma for their achievement.

Former child-life specialist and manager Gwen Senio was honored as the keynote speaker for the graduation. Senio has dedicated 38 years to serving children and their families at the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital and now works as the head counselor of “Gamma Camp.”

“Graduation is usually a time when we celebrate school,” she said. “Today is unique. For us, we are celebrating you as our teachers. You have taught us things that doctors, child-life specialists, and others have never known before.”

Kids were embraced by their families after receiving their diplomas in front of the cheering crowd.

Abby Moore, a part of the 2019 kiddo class, spoke on behalf of the other graduates and told her story.

Moore was diagnosed in 2012 and is the only person in the world to have had cancer in her toes.

“You never hear about what the doctors and families have to endure when we go through these things,” Moore said. “I endured 11 months of chemotherapy and 17 rounds of pain, and I have my support team to thank for getting me through it.”

Moore stood alongside 11 other graduates on the IMU stage: Anson Broadus, Cody Cohen, Josh Horne, Bethanie Johnson, Amillianna King, Devin Martz, Dylan Pankey, Paige Plotz, Violet Plotter, Jacob Schilling, and Isaiah Williams.

Graduates had stories involving ranging from their very first months of life to their early 20s.

Allie Zimmerman, the Dance Marathon morale director, said the ceremony brought a few tears to her eyes to watch the children walk across the stage.

“I am just so happy for the kids,” she said. “Everything they have had to endure is unimaginable, so to see them to get through it is amazing. I am also so proud of the two directors that stood up there and were able to honor the kids. I think it is a lot of pride that [Dance Marathon] has in what happened today.”

Natalie Paulson, a Dance Marathon lime captain, said the energy the graduation brought to all of the dancers will stick with her.

“When you go through the entire 24 hours — even more for leadership — and you see the fact that you have helped those kids is truly amazing,” she said. “No matter how big or how small, the fact that you get to see it in person provokes an emotion within you that is so overwhelming that you can’t even put it into words.”