Ten kids celebrate being five years cancer-free at Dance Marathon 26

The University of Iowa Dance Marathon’s “kiddo graduation” tradition recognized 10 children for their five-year cancer-free anniversary on Saturday.

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Katie Goodale

Kids switch their tassle to the right during Kiddo Graduation at Dance Marathon 26 in the IMU on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. (Katie Goodale/The Daily Iowan)

Kinsey Phipps, News Reporter

“Congratulations to the class of 2020.”

Not the class of 2020 finishing out this academic year, but the one celebrating its anniversary of being five years cancer free. Smiling faces and teary eyes filled the Iowa Memorial Union Main Lounge on Saturday afternoon as ten children were recognized as survivors at Dance Marathon 26.

“Pomp and Circumstance” played as medical staff, dressed in purple robes, walked to the stage. They were followed by the graduates, clothed in robes of gold. 

David Dickens, hematologist-oncologist at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, gave the opening address. 

“Five years ago, you and your families were reminded just how fragile life is and what’s truly important. At that time, you were set on a path that changed your life forever,” Dickens said. “Not five years later, because of your families, your friends, everyone out there, and the countless people on the 11th floor of the Children’s Hospital, you are cancer free.” 

Child-Life Specialist Kathy Whiteside followed with her own remarks.

“We are incredibly proud of you, and we know without any doubt that your future is going to be amazing,” she said.

Nurse Practitioner Mary Schlapkohl and Child Life Specialist Rachael Niensteadt read bios for each child that received recognition. 

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Class speaker and Luther College sophomore Danica Nolton was diagnosed in May 2014 with stage IV hodgkin’s lymphoma. After pushing through chemo and radiation treatment, she remained on the honor roll and in multiple leadership roles in high school, according to her bio.

To give back for the support she received from UI Dance Marathon, Nolton organized an annual pediatric cancer fundraiser after high school. She serves as the Luther College Dance Marathon Morale Director. 

“While our cancer journeys are a mix of every emotion possible, they are things that we have undoubtedly grown from and will forever remember,” Nolton said. “Those sickly adjectives may have once described us, they will no longer define us.”

The theme of this year’s family room at UI Dance Marathon is superheroes. But for the families, dancers, and Children’s Hospital staff, the children fighting cancer are the true heroes. Spectators chanted “FTK” as the kids took their victory march out of the main lounge. 

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“We have the ultimate gift — transitioning into the realm of survivorship which is a place a lot of us didn’t know if we would ever see,” Nolton said in her speech. “So while our cancer diagnosis will never disappear, and the little reminders will always be present, we are now looking forward to the future because we are officially five years cancer free.”

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