Chemo Duck Celebrates 10 Years

Ten years ago, what started as a light-hearted way for one family to cope with the harsh introduction to cancer, has become an international educational tool for patients, families and health care providers.

Chemo Duck, the bright yellow, hospital scrubs and bandana-wearing stuffed animal, has come a long way since it made its first unofficial appearance in 2002.

Lu Sipos’ son, Gabe, was diagnosed in 2002 with rhabdomyosarcoma, a tumor of the muscles that is attached to the bones. For Gabe, the cancer was in the right side of his jaw and sinus passage.

“When I made Gabe’s duck, I was looking for a way to bring some comfort to my child,” said Sipos. “It was also a way to show a little humor for the nurses and doctors,” said Sipos. “I really thought it was a prop that would make them all laugh and then when we went home I’d put it away on a shelf. Fortunately, that is not what happened. The duck ended up becoming a source of comfort for my son as well as a valuable tool used to show Gabe what was going to happen to him during treatments.” 

In 2004, Sipos founded the non-profit called Gabe’s My Heart to mass produce Chemo Ducks.

“I never pushed Chemo Duck to grow,” said Sipos. “It grew on its own. It grew out of necessity. Others saw our duck and wanted one. And that led to my making a few and it just caught on.”

Little did Sipos know that the stuffed animal she sewed as an icebreaker during her son’s first visit to the pediatric oncology clinic at the Monroe Carell Jr Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt would grow into the lovable, source of comfort her then nearly one-year-old son craddled throughout his cancer journey.

Chemo Duck has served as a therapeutic agent for newly diagnosed pediatric patients all across the globe. There have been 2,300 ducks produced.

Chemo Duck is much more than the stuffed animal. Each duck has a catheter sewn into its chest to resemble the line that is central to a chemotherapy patient’s treatment. The educational program comes with a video and two books. The website features cartoons, printable activities and a song. This fall, Sipos expects to launch a Chemo Duck app.

What makes celebrating the ten-year mark with Chemo Duck more special, says Sipos, is that Gabe is taking a very active role in the program that was initially created for him.

Recently, the 12-year-old received regional recognition through the Kohls Kids Care Scholarship for his volunteer work.

“I am really proud of his becoming more a part of the program,” said Sipos. “I feel so glad that he is getting recognized for the work that he is doing. The idea that he wants to be a part of this and wants to give back makes me proud as a parent.”

As a voting member of the board of directors for Gabe’s My Heart, Gabe has had several opportunities to interact with the public and explain the Chemo Duck program.

“He has taken a real interest in our events and especially working with the kids,” said Sipos. “That is an area where he excels. He is a natural when it comes to interacting with people.”

As Chemo Duck celebrates 10 years of providing necessary information for patients, families and practitioners, Sipos shares one of her dreams:

“Now, I want Chemo Duck to be to kids with cancer what Mickey Mouse is to all kids – something that creates a smile on a child’s face.”

As part of the anniversary celebration, Chemo Duck will host a birthday party at Children’s Hospital on August 6 at 2:30 p.m. at the stage. Fans are also invited to submit birthday greetings by posting a creative, fun or inspiring photo or video message to Chemo Duck’s Facebook page. Post between August 5 and August 10 at midnight. A winner will be announced on the Facebook page on August 13 (the actual 10th birthdate) and will receive a $100.00gift card to and have 10 Chemo Ducks donated to a hospital of their choice.

Affiliate Hospital: El Paso Children’s Hospital

There is no better way to share the impact Chemo Duck has on children battling cancer than through a testimonial video from a reputable children’s hospital. We are thankful for the partnership with the Children’s Miracle Network and El Paso Children’s Hospital for telling this story.

We invite you to watch Child Life Specialist Abigail Null explain how our therapeutic tools are comforting hundreds of children in El Paso.

Meet the Real Gigi

Gigi Pasley knows the impact of cancer.

When she was two-years-old, her twin sister Jade, died after a bone marrow transplant to cure her of Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML).

During the same time her twin sister was undergoing the bone marrow transplant, Gigi began chemotherapy for the same form of cancer. Gigi’s battle with cancer did not stop there. After two relapses followed by two separate bone marrow transplants, the then 10-year-old developed a secondary cancer called osteosarcoma in her left femur. 

Now a four-time cancer survivor, Gigi, 16, is a junior at Centennial High School in Franklin, TN.

She is one of the seven cartoon characters featured in the Chemo Duck program to encourage, support and educate patients during treatment through play therapy.“I think it is really important to not over complicate things,” said Gigi. “I know that diseases can be complicated and confusing. But the people, who have the disease, need to be able to comprehend in the simplest terms what is happening to them.

“They deserve to be able to understand,” she said. “Chemo Duck puts that into practice in a fun way.”

Gigi said it is so important that Chemo Duck is cuddly and plush because oftentimes the medical environment that patients are required to be a part of for treatment and care can be frightening.

“All of the medications, treatments and rules are there to help you to get better, but it can be really, really hard and super strict,” recalled Gigi. “When most of the tools and things a patient must experience are not happy, Chemo Duck is something a doctor can use that can be like a security blanket.

“After a while, as you learn that you have to go through with the therapy and you begin to get use to the routine, at least with Chemo Duck you have something soft and comforting to hang onto.”

Gigi hopes to become a child life specialist, a trained professional with expertise in helping children and their families in healthcare settings overcome life’s most challenging events. Child life specialists promote effective coping through play, preparation, education, and self-expression activities and utilize Chemo Duck in daily practice with their cancer patients.

All of us at Gabe’s Chemo Duck Program support Gigi in her mission and are thrilled to have her on our team!