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Arts and Entertainment

I Believe in Ellen

Author Bridget LaVelle
Erin Cassidy Hendrick

I believe in Ellen. Ellen Smith is a THON child who has been battling cancer since 2011. Through her entire four-year journey, she has never given up her fight.

They found her cancer in May. Ellen was experiencing unexplained headaches. Later that month, a CT scan showed a mass in her brain. Her doctor immediately sent Ellen and her family to the hospital for an MRI. In the scans, Ellen’s doctors found a brain tumor half the size of her surgeon’s fist.

Surgery was scheduled, and just three days later, Ellen went home without a brain tumor. But later that June, they found that Ellen was battling ATRT, a rare tumor usually found in children under the age of two. Just after her 5th grade graduation, she began both radiation and chemotherapy.

Fast forward to February 2012 when I met Ellen at THON. I was a part of her THON organization, “Hershey Kisses For the Kids,” and we were so excited to meet her and make her an honorary Penn State Nittany Lion.

It was not until that weekend that she actually met us face-to-face, but it didn’t take Ellen very long to feel comfortable with her new friends.

There she was, a young girl with a massive tumor in her brain. But for that weekend, her only focus was to make sure she did not miss out on dancing to the cupid shuffle. Once that music hit, you could see it in Ellen’s dance moves – she knew she had a group to call her own.

I have been fortunate enough to fight alongside Ellen and her family throughout this entire journey. That first THON weekend was the beginning of what has evolved into my reason why “college is the best four years of your life.” That weekend is how and why I, along with 30 other members, learned to “THON on.”

Over the next two years, Ellen battled the tumor and celebrated small victories when the tumor shrank. She was determined to beat the intruder in her brain. As the tumor continued down its path of destruction, Ellen continued down her path of determination.

Today, Ellen continues to stare down cancer. No matter what, it cannot and will not bring her down. Cancer does not define her. The size of her tumor does not define her. The size of her heart, the warmth of her smile and the sweet sound of her contagious laugh - that is what defines her. Her sense of humor and her never-ending craving to live life to its fullest continue to inspire everyone who has been fortunate enough to meet her.

Unfortunately, Ellen’s tumor has continued to spread and even though she is nearing the end of her battle, I believe that this young girl has won. This tumor has taken over her brain, but she never let it take over her life. With every laugh and every moment she chooses to live, Ellen beats cancer. She has filled our lives and her family’s life with so many giggles and so much love. I believe Ellen’s strength has become my strength, and her laughter will be carried on for years to come. I believe in Ellen. 

Bridget LaVelle is a dancer for THON 2015. You can donate to her THON organization, "Hershey Kisses for the Kids" here.

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