Fighting pediatric cancer is now a family affair, with 21-year-old Zachary Freedman and his father Gary.

Marblehead son to participate in dance marathon

After the shocking cancer diagnosis of a Marblehead father, fighting pediatric cancer is now a family affair.

The last time Gary Freedman ran the Boston Marathon, after doing so 26 times, was in 2013, the year of the marathon bombings. It was a few months before he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. Inspired by his father, 21-year-old Zachary Freedman will participate in a 46-hour, no sleep, no sitting dance marathon next month.

"Last year I was able to last for 40 hours," said Zachary. "You kind of just have to keep going. There's no clock, no windows, they block everything out, and there's no reference to any time. They even change the time zone on your phones. I've always been in the stands enjoying it, but this year I'll be out there the entire time."

The weekend event is an entity of THON, a student-run philanthropy committed to enhancing the lives of children and families affected by childhood cancer, according to its website. This may be Zachary's fourth year partnering with the event, but, in his final year at Pennsylvania State University, it's his first time participating for the full 46 hours.

"I don't think I would be as involved as I am now if it wasn't for how my family felt after my dad's diagnosis," he said.

Gary Freedman, 58, said he, his wife Esther, and his 20-year-old daughter, Vanessa, have watched the dance marathon the last few years on the event's internet livestream. This year, they will be cheering Zachary on from the stands in Pennsylvania.

"It's kind of crazy what these kids do," said Gary. "But it's amazing to see."

THON has raised more than $150,000,000 since its inception in 1973, said Zachary. He joined the program his freshman year of college and stuck with it all four years, all while keeping up with his work as a pre-med student and being in charge of the university's Greek life as the liaison.

Gary said his daughter, also in support of fighting pediatric cancer, has participated in a few dance marathons where she studies at Michigan State University. She also made it a point to run with her father the last few miles of his most recent Boston Marathons, and a few dozen of the 100 races he completed.

Last October, Gary ran his first marathon since his diagnosis. He ran 26.2 miles in Detroit and Vanessa ran the last four miles with him.

"She pushed me along to the finish line," said Gary. "It was my first one back, so it was a little scary and a little intimidating. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could get back out there."

Gary, who is owner of Marblehead Opticians, is hosting a trunk show fundraiser, with all the proceeds going to THON, from 4 to 7 p.m. on Jan. 10. The event will feature music from local author and musician Jim Trick, and an array of sunglasses and products from Maui Jim for purchase.

"I'm just impressed with how much (Zachary and Vanessa) care about this and want to do it on their own," said Gary. "I'm incredibly proud of them. We all have our issues, and I'd take mine over anyone else's any day, but it's pretty special to see how quickly people step up to the plate when it matters."

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