SUGARLOAF TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- A student at a Penn State campus near Hazleton is in the process of conserving his energy so he can live out a lifelong dream this weekend.
THON is Penn State's student-run charity and dance marathon committed to enhancing the lives of children and families impacted by childhood cancer. It was first organized in 1973 and has evolved into the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.
It holds special meaning for Charlie Karchner.
On Penn State Hazleton's campus, Charlie Karchner is well-known. While we sat down for an interview, fellow students stopped to say hi, so they could catch up with the fifth-year engineering student, but this 22 year old from West Hazleton almost didn't make to this point.
"I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on October 19 of 2001," Karchner said.
While other 5 year olds were enjoying kindergarten and living life joyfully with no sense of fear, Charlie and his family were forced to fear for his life. He was diagnosed with cancer and faced an uphill climb at such an early age.
"It was a rough experience on me because my parents had to constantly care for me. There were times I was so weak that I wasn't able to walk, and my mom or dad would carry me upstairs. It just leaves me at a loss for words thinking about it now."
This is where THON comes in.
During Charlie's fight against the disease, he and his family were supported by Four Diamonds. THON has raised $157 million for that organization.
"THON has really shaped me to be a person who cares and that gives back. Everything that THON has given to me and my family over these years has inspired me deep down inside and to give it back one day."
And now this year, after attending THON every year since 2003, Charlie has been granted the opportunity of a lifetime. He'll be dancing at THON this weekend, on his feet for 46 straight hours,
"I was speechless. I've been waiting to dance since my first THON experience, but I've never pictured myself doing it, so the fact I get to dance this year is a dream come true."
It took Charlie about three years to beat leukemia. He's cancer-free now and just has to go in for annual checkups. He's slated to graduate in the spring with an engineering degree. He says he'll head to State College Thursday night, dance all weekend while raising money for the fight against cancer, then, of course, sleep.