By Jessica Kartalija

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (CBS) — For decades, Penn State students have been raising money to help fight childhood cancer. On Friday, students will celebrate the 50th anniversary of THON, which started back in 1973.

Allison Gettler is incredibly thankful for THON.

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“I really appreciate everything they continuously do year after year,” Gettler said.

Her son, Carter, has a rare type of pediatric cancer. Their family receives emotional and financial support through Four Diamonds, funded by student volunteers at Penn State.

“Besides for us, the financial assistance, but Carter personally, the child life specialist that he still has to use every time he goes in for an MRI those truly got him through that entire time,” Gettler said.

“Any time Carter had an infection and had to stay in the hospital in the week, they would hand us Panera gift cards so Carter and I could take a break from eating in the hospital. They had a book card that would come around and they would let Carter choose a book,” Gettler said.

It’s the little things she says that have made a huge difference for their family and thousands of others.

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“We have over 16,500 student volunteers now. It is the largest-run student philanthropy in the world. So we’re still going and it’s one of our power phrases, but like we always say, we will not stop until we are dancing in celebration of a cure,” Nolan Merritt, PR director of THON 2022, said.

THON is a year-long fundraising effort that ends with a 46-hour dance marathon at the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State.

“Fifty years in we are still fighting, $190 million later, countless emotional support that we have provided to our families. We have helped over 4,800 families battling childhood cancer at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital,” Merritt said.

The pandemic meant a shift to a virtual THON last year, but students still raised more than $10.6 million for Four Diamonds.

“We have now raised $190 million for our sole beneficiary, Four Diamonds. And all of that money goes directly towards funding critical research in pursuit of a cure, for ensuring that none of our families have to see a single medical bill when they’re going through cancer treatment,” Merritt said.

Stay with Eyewitness News and CBS3 as we celebrate 50 years of THON.

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On Friday, Jessica Kartalija will be live from Penn State starting at 4 p.m.,  just as the big event kicks off.

Jessica Kartalija