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UD student Colby Atkinson, who has leukemia, raises money for UDance, the organization that once supported him.
UD student Colby Atkinson, who has leukemia, raises money for UDance, the organization that once supported him.

UDance helping cure cancer

Photo by Ariel Ramirez

UD student and UDance board member Colby Atkinson embodies the cause

For most University of Delaware students who raise money for children with cancer through UDance, it’s likely hard for them to imagine exactly what these kids and their families are going through. UD sophomore Colby Atkinson knows firsthand.  

As a freshman in high school, Atkinson was diagnosed with leukemia. It all started in the fall of 2013 when he began feeling very sluggish, would come home from football practice with lots of bruises and began to lose his appetite — all signs of that type of cancer. The next few months were a whirlwind. He was diagnosed, began chemotherapy treatments, underwent a bone marrow transplant surgery and started the recovery process.

Then he was approached by Joe McDonough, president of The Andrew McDonough B+ (Be Positive) Foundation, and asked if he wanted to be a B+ hero. Through UDance, the largest student-run philanthropy effort at the University, the Blue Hen baseball team “adopted” Atkinson to support him through his journey.

He said it meant a lot.  

“Nobody wants to have cancer,” Atkinson said. “It gives kids hope to know that there are people out there supporting them and funding research that may one day cure pediatric cancer.”

In addition to the financial support, Atkinson recalled a few of the players visiting him to play video games or taking him on mini trips to the movies and fishing. That first year, the team created a Colby Calendar spread with his photo on the cover.

Now a second-year sports management major, Atkinson’s role has reversed. He is a member of the UDance executive board as an athletics liason on the family relations team. In this role, he serves as a bridge between the athletic teams that participate in UDance and their B+ heroes.

“I think it’s pretty cool I’m on the exec board because I can give that perspective of being a B+ hero,” Atkinson said. “When they say we’re going to do this and this, I have the opposite view of how it is going to impact the family.”

Atkinson has raised more than $3,500 so far this year. The 63 members of the executive board have collectively raised about $135,000. Their goal is to hit $150,000 by the end of the 12-hour dance marathon on Sunday, March 24. All proceeds raised through UDance support the B+ Foundation.

He said there was no question whether he would join UDance once he started at the University.

“I joined just because I was B+ hero for the last couple of years. I like helping people out and I want to give back to an organization that has done a lot for me throughout the years,” he said. “They’ve been there for me and my family and always helped us out. So when I had the chance to give back and do that for other people, I wanted to take the opportunity.”

Atkinson still struggles with a number of side effects from having leukemia. He now has graft versus host disease (GvHD), which occurs when the recipient's body views the donated bone marrow as foreign and attacks it. He’s had other complications during the years and continues with physical therapy.

He chooses not to focus on that. Instead, he focuses on being a UD student and living on campus. Although he can no longer play sports, he’s still pursuing his passion for it through sports management studies and would like to one day coach a professional team.

Most importantly, he is able to give back.

“For me, personally, it’s nice knowing that I’m able to help a family,” Atkinson said. “Nothing is too small, it all adds up in the end. So $5 or $10 is still good. It helps the family because all money goes toward B+.”

About UDance Dance Marathon

The UDance mission is to help college students do all they can to end childhood cancer. The organization is built on a foundation of hope, unity, perseverance and passion. Its work inspires thousands of people to raise awareness and funds to battle the vicious disease.

By hosting engaging events year-round, UDance fosters mutually motivational relationships between University of Delaware students and local families affected by pediatric cancer. UDance financially aids families nationwide and funds cutting edge research studies that have already saved lives. In 2018, UDance raised more than $2 million to fight childhood cancer.

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