Opinion | Looking back on four years through Dance Marathon

Working behind the scenes allowed me to see what families facing pediatric cancer diagnoses go through.


Gabby Drees

Participants dance during Dance Marathon at the Iowa Memorial Union at the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022. The fundraiser was held virtually with limited in-person participants.

Yassie Buchanan, Opinions Columnist

University of Iowa Dance Marathon raised $1.3 million on Feb. 4 in support of pediatric cancer patients and families at Stead Family Children’s Hospital. I have been involved in Dance Marathon for four years now, working my way through different leadership positions.

Reflecting on my time in Dance Marathon, I am proud of all the work the organization has done for families and kids facing pediatric cancer and fortunate to witness what some of these families go through in the hospital.

This year was Dance Marathon’s 28th year of serving families and patients at Stead Family Children’s Hospital. I held the role of diversity, equity, and inclusion director. I worked with a team of students, campus partners, and advisers to develop a five-year action plan addressing systemic barriers in the organization.

We did advocacy work to address inequity in the health care system and shed light on the lack of funding for pediatric cancer research. My committee held educational opportunities on topics like gender versus sexual identity, as well as implicit bias education.

Executive members and certain leadership have the privilege of volunteering with the families at the hospital. It has been incredibly humbling spending time with the families we serve, especially while there are so many precautions with COVID-19 limiting visitors.

As the kids are hooked up to several machines and sometimes very tired from treatment, we are able to witness how important it is for them and their parents to be able to color with a friend, play Uno, sing happy birthday on repeat, and more.

Dance Marathon has a complicated leadership structure. There were 13 other executive members who worked nearly full time in their positions. In every position there is a director, then there are chairs who work under the directors, then beneath the chairs there are committee members. Advisers’ responsibility is to oversee all of the directors. There are positions that work with finances, event planning, event logistics, public relations, merchandise, family relations, and more.

At the end of the year, executive members meet with hospital staff and allocations liaisons to determine what hospital projects the money will fund. In the past, the money was allocated to begin Phase I and Phase II clinical pediatric cancer research trials and help families meet insurance co-pays. Few Dance Marathon organizations have the opportunity to connect with hospitals they serve like UIDM.

While I hope one day the distribution of wealth and policies in our country will move toward supporting families who are struggling with a pediatric cancer diagnosis, I recognize the work we do makes a difference in everything from paying for funeral costs to funding research projects.

Sticking with this organization for the past four years taught me a lot about non-profit leadership, diversity, equity, and inclusion work, and more. While UIDM has a long way to go in terms of inclusion, there are hardworking students trying to make a change for families and children facing a pediatric cancer diagnosis.

I look forward to watching Dance Marathon push for more advocacy and equity while fighting for families at the hospital. I will take what I have learned from hearing families’ stories and seeing the way pediatric cancer patients fight for the rest of my life.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.