Kayleigh finds comfort in cuddy companion

When she was just three and a half years old, Kayleigh was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. It was a Thursday, and her mom Valerie Hale remembers every single moment of it.

“I felt so helpless. I started crying so hard I couldn’t even hardly see,” said Valerie. “I sat down beside Kayleigh and she just looked at me and said, ‘Mommy, why are you crying? It’ll be okay. Hold my hand, mommy.’ She didn’t even know what was going on. She was just trying to comfort me.”

When Kayleigh was first admitted on August 4, 2009, there weren’t any available rooms on the hospital’s oncology floor, so she was admitted to the cardiology floor. It wasn’t until the next day that she finally got a room on the oncology floor.

As soon as she got into her room, there was a Chemo Duck waiting on the bed for her.

“We didn’t realize it at the time just how important and special he would become,” explained Valerie. “In the early days, he was always by her side for the majority of her journey. But as time went on, and even today, as she is nearing her teens, he goes with her everywhere. He is her comfort and her peace of mind. He is her best friend.”

While Kayleigh found comfort in her Chemo Duck, Valerie found comfort in her family and other families within the childhood cancer community.

“The most beneficial thing for us during this time was just being together as a family,” said Valerie. “For parents going through this, I’d recommend finding support groups. They help.”  

Today, Kayleigh is almost nine years cancer-free. This November, she will be eight years out of treatment. She still has her original Chemo Duck from nine years ago, as well as a newer duck and a Chemo duckling.

“She loves them all, of course,” said Valerie. “But the others don’t even come close to comparing to her love for her original ducky. I don’t think she will ever let him go.”

Kayleigh has a lot of lasting effects from chemo, radiation and other treatments. She lost a good bit of her hearing and now has a hearing aid on one side and a cochlear implant/hearing aid hybrid on the other. She has also had problems growing and gaining weight.

“Her bones are more fragile now and more prone to breaks or small fractures, too,” explained Valerie. “She is being followed in GI, Endocrinology, Nephrology, sees her survivor clinic once a year, Audiology and ENT as well as Neurology and Mental Health. They all keep pretty close tabs on her to make sure she is where she should be and has everything she needs.”

However, despite her struggles at such a young age, Kayleigh takes it all in stride and very rarely complains. She is doing well in school — all A’s and B’s! — and is friends with everyone in her grade.

In fact, Kayleigh is a very spunky girl. She’s bright and can put a smile on anyone’s face. An artist at heart, Kayleigh loves art, music (more specifically: Twenty-One Pilots) and animals. She has a bearded dragon named Zilla and a chihuahua named Sammy. Known for her big heart, Kayleigh truly cares about people.

Everyone with Gabe’s Chemo Duck Program is so glad to hear that Kayleigh is doing well and that her Chemo Duck is still by her side every step of the way. We cannot wait to see where Kayleigh’s loving, artistic spirit will take her next. The sky is the limit for this sweet, spunky girl!

Meet Bailey and her cuddly companion, Quack Quack

On May 3, 2018, Bailey was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. After taking her to a local urgent care as well as a county hospital to try to find answers for unexplained bruising and the onset of what appeared to be a rash, Bailey’s parents were given the new no parent expects to hear.

At just two years and four months old, Bailey began her cancer journey at the Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center.

“The child life specialists would give Bailey toys to play with to help make her more comfortable, but she would typically get bored after a while,” said Bailey’s mom, Lyndsay. “When they suggested getting her a Chemo Duck after she had a port placed, Bailey was super excited to meet him and hasn’t grown bored of him since!”

Appropriately named Quack Quack, Bailey’s Chemo Duck has been by her side every single day.

“She loves to show people that he has a ‘bump’ just like her. She loves that she can practice on him and show him what the doctors are doing to her,” explained Lyndsay. “I love that she can understand what the doctors are planning and that she has a buddy going through the same thing as her. I think it makes her feel a lot safer and much more comfortable.”

Although she is currently undergoing chemotherapy every other week at the hospital and oral chemotherapy every night at home, Bailey discovered after a bone marrow procedure on June 4 that there are no more active cancer cells in her system.

Known as a happy girl with a bubbly spirit and an adventurous, talkative and playful personality, Bailey’s spirit continues to shine through every day.

“She’s extremely smart and will strike up a conversation with anyone willing to talk,” said Lyndsay. “She loves Paw Patrol, swimming and playing hide-and-seek. She also enjoys nature walks and trips to the zoo!”

Lyndsay is extremely thankful for the support of her family and her community during Bailey’s cancer journey. They have even helped raise money through fundraisers and benefits to help fund Bailey’s treatment.

“We are absolutely blessed to have such caring people surrounding us.”

Additionally, Lyndsay could not be more thankful for the special care Bailey received at the Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center.

“Cincinnati Children’s is an AMAZING facility that I am very confident in. I am so appreciative of the care we have received from everyone there.”

As a mother who has a child undergoing cancer treatment, Lyndsay had some wonderful words of encouragement to share with other parents who have found themselves in this same situation.

“You are not alone! You did nothing to cause this and you are an amazing parent. Going through this journey with your child will allow you to form a bond that no one could understand and no one could break. Sleepless nights holding your child who doesn’t understand is absolutely heartbreaking, but you are not alone, and I am praying for you!”

Thank you to Lyndsay and Bailey for sharing your story with us. We are all rooting for you!

JayLee Finds A Lifelong Companion


JayLee was diagnosed with Leukemia on April 21, 2011, just one month shy of her 5th birthday.

After going through several different avenues to try and figure out what was causing her many urinary tract infections, swollen lymph nodes, easy bruising and the severe pain in her joints, doctors suggested she receive a bone marrow biopsy to make sure it wasn’t Leukemia.

“JayLee, her brother Bryce, her sister KayDee and I went expecting to do the biopsy and go home,” explained JayLee’s mom, Danyel. “When she came out of the biopsy, her body went crazy. It wouldn’t stop bleeding and she spiked a fever, so they wouldn’t let us leave. An hour later, a doctor, social worker and child life specialist came into the room and spoke the words I’ll never forget: it was Leukemia.”

JayLee was admitted to Blank’s Children’s Hospital and began treatment the following morning.

Shortly after, she received her very own Chemo Duck to accompany her throughout her cancer journey.

“She loved Chemo Duck the second she got him. She immediately put on the bandana so she could match him,” said Danyel. “She carried him around all day talking to him and telling him they were going to do this together. I remember her telling him that it hurts sometimes but she would help him feel better.”

Throughout the entire process, JayLee loved that Chemo Duck could go through all the procedures with her and most of the time before her so she could see what it would be like.

JayLee recently celebrated the fact that she is five years off treatment! She took her last chemo pills on June 24, 2013. And even though she is in the clear, her friendship with Chemo Duck continues to be as strong as ever.

“She is 12 years old now and still sleeps with Chemo Duck every night,” said Danyel. “She still takes him to sleepovers and camp, too. I love the fact that she had a friend to go through that with her.”

While JayLee loves to snuggle with her Chemo Duck, she also enjoys staying active and can oftentimes be found playing basketball, swimming or playing with crafts.

When asked what advice she would give to other parents who are dealing with childhood cancer, JayLee’s mom Danyel shared,

“There will be good days and bad days (honestly more bad than good), but enjoy every moment you have. Treatment can be rough but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

I found that the biggest help we found was with friends and family. I wanted to do it all on my own even though so many people offered to help. Even though it is your child, it takes a strong support system to help you get through it all.

And make sure to make time for all of your family, spouse and other children, if you have them. Everything thinks your cancer child needs the most attention, but honestly your other children and spouse are just as scared and probably feel even lonelier.”

Thank you, Danyel and JayLee, for sharing your story. We are so happy to hear that Chemo Duck is now a permanent fixture in your family!

Meet Ken and his new fuzzy friend!

Meet Ken and his new fuzzy friend!

It gives us great pleasure to introduce you guys to our new friend, Ken. He is an adorable 2-year-old boy who was recently diagnosed with ALL.

According to his mom, his new diagnosis was “a life-changing event for us. We know nothing about this disease and would never have 

thought this would happen to our Ken.”

“We just received this duck and this made me smile very bright it’s amazing and will definitely help us along our journey.”

Be sure to give Ken a big, warm, virtual hug through our Facebook!

May Newsletter

Hi Friends,

I wanted to take a moment and share a story about Gabe that made my heart overflow with pride at the amazing young man he is becoming. 

A few weeks ago Gabe announced to me that he had decided to run for “Coming Home” King. It is the basketball equivalent of Homecoming at his school and serves as an all-school fundraiser for the local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He was absolutely determined to help his school raise enough to provide a wish for a child. 
 
In previous years, his school was able to raise, at most, a little over $2,000. In the span of only two weeks, Gabe managed to personally raise $2,700! His outstanding efforts even inspired the other 8 contenders to try and match the amount he raised. 

Gabe was crowned Coming Home King 2018, and his school collectively raised more than $8,000, allowing a local pediatric cancer survivor to live out her dream of going on a Disney cruise.

Even when Gabe is not focused on raising funds for Chemo Duck, he is always looking for ways to give back. I am immensely proud of the young man he is becoming and I am sure you will all join me in congratulating him for his incredible hard work! 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

Lu Sipos
Executive Director
Gabe’s Chemo Duck Program

 

Meet Madeline and her fluffy friend, Scooter

In just three months, Madeline will be three years old. And just one month ago, only a few days after Christmas, she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

No family can ever truly prepare for hearing that their child has cancer. All they can do is look ahead to what’s next and what can be done to help. For Madeline and her family, that meant starting cancer treatment at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

Shortly after beginning treatment, one of the nurses at the hospital introduced Madeline to a cuddly companion who would quickly become a member of the family.

He was a Chemo Duck, given to Madeline to help explain the cancer treatment process in a way that would make sense to an almost-three-year-old child. Madeline took to him immediately and pretty soon he had a name: Scooter.

Madeline has enjoyed getting to spend time with Scooter all day and all night. And she can relate so well to his port and tube because she has a port and tube, too!

More than just the duck itself, Madeline has enjoyed getting stamps in her Chemo Duck passport every time she makes a trip to the clinic.

When she’s not receiving treatment or cuddling with Scooter, Madeline enjoys painting her nails with her mom, playing with her Peppa Pig people and her dollhouse, or watching Sheriff Callie.

“Chemo Duck has made this process a little easier for her to understand,” explained Madeline’s mom, Emily. “She loves him!”

We think it’s safe to say that Scooter is a welcomed addition to the family — and he will proudly provide comfort to Madeline and her family for as long as he is needed.

Meet Madeline and her fluffy friend, Scooter

In just three months, Madeline will be three years old. And just one month ago, only a few days after Christmas, she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

No family can ever truly prepare for hearing that their child has cancer. All they can do is look ahead to what’s next and what can be done to help. For Madeline and her family, that meant starting cancer treatment at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. 

Shortly after beginning treatment, one of the nurses at the hospital introduced Madeline to a cuddly companion who would quickly become a member of the family.

He was a Chemo Duck, given to Madeline to help explain the cancer treatment process in a way that would make sense to an almost-three-year-old child. Madeline took to him immediately and pretty soon he had a name: Scooter.

Madeline has enjoyed getting to spend time with Scooter all day and all night. And she can relate so well to his port and tube because she has a port and tube, too!

More than just the duck itself, Madeline has enjoyed getting stamps in her Chemo Duck passport every time she makes a trip to the clinic.

When she’s not receiving treatment or cuddling with Scooter, Madeline enjoys painting her nails with her mom, playing with her Peppa Pig people and her dollhouse, or watching Sheriff Callie.

“Chemo Duck has made this process a little easier for her to understand,” explained Madeline’s mom, Emily. “She loves him!”

We think it’s safe to say that Scooter is a welcomed addition to the family — and he will proudly provide comfort to Madeline and her family for as long as he is needed.

Join Rob’s Memorial Flock

For those who may not have heard, Gabe and I lost his father, my husband, Rob, earlier this year to cancer.

Rob was a true pillar in our family and a passionate supporter of Chemo Duck — he was our loudest cheerleader and our greatest partner in this journey.

To honor his memory, we have created “Rob’s Memorial Flock,” a fundraiser that will demonstrate just how many people’s lives Rob has impacted and will continue to impact, as his legacy lives on.

Our hope is that by joining this special initiative to get more Chemo Ducks in the arms of some very special kids, you will also help us make Rob’s memory synonymous with the love and hope that our organization is so passionate about sharing.

We invite you to be a part of Rob’s Memorial Flock and help us raise $3,000 — the equivalent of 100 ducks — in honor of our beloved husband, father and friend. Even a small donation will still make a huge difference in helping us reach our goal.

We appreciate your support and know Rob would be proud to have each and every one of you as a member of his memorial flock!

Join the Flock

Meet Alexis and her friend Pato Lucas

On January 5, 2017, Alexis was diagnosed with leukemia. She was seven years old.

Despite her diagnosis, Alexis found hope and comfort in the Chemo Duck she was given by her doctor at the Children’s Blood and Cancer Center in Austin, Texas.

“It was the only thing that would make me smile, even when I was sad,” said Alexis, who celebrated her 8th birthday in May. “It reminded me of a pet duck my grandmother used to have. I actually named him Pato Lucas like my grandmother’s duck.”

Now, wherever Alexis goes, Pato Lucas goes, too. Alexis uses Pato Lucas to explain her situation to other kids and adults. Having Pato Lucas nearby has helped show her that she’s not alone in her journey.

“I get sad when I forget to bring him to my appointments because I know if he doesn’t go he won’t get better soon,” Alexis explained. “I love him with all my heart, he is just like me in every single way. He doesn’t have hair like me and he has a port, too. It makes me so happy just to see him and cuddle with him.”

Just as Pato Lucas has been a comfort to Alexis, she has been a comforting friend to others in her situation.

“She was a great help with another girl who was diagnosed after her,” said Alexis’ mom, Norma. “She helped her with her fear of accessing her port. She showed her a couple of tricks for her not to be afraid when getting it done. They are pretty good friends now and the girl is no longer afraid.”

Alexis also loves to help out at the clinic by talking to other kids about her experience and the way she sometimes feels about what is happening.

“It helps her and them at the same time,” explained Norma. “She has grown so much after this and her way of seeing things has changed, too.”

When Alexis isn’t spending her days spreading hope and joy to others at the clinic, she can be found spending time with her parents, her brother Luis and her step-siblings Alex, Chris, Kristy and Frankie.

Everyone with Gabe’s Chemo Duck Program is so thankful that Alexis was willing to share her story. Her sweet, caring spirit is a gift to us all!

Zack Finds Lifelong Friend in Chemo Duck

You may recognize Zack as the boy behind one of our adorable Chemo Duck cartoon characters. This is his story…zack

Three days before his third birthday, Zack’s parents received the worst news a parent can hear: “your son has cancer.”

Not long after his diagnosis, their local hospital in the UK, Birmingham Children’s Hospital, gave Zack the hope and comfort he needed — his very own Chemo Duck.

“Zack was very excited about his duck,” said Zack’s father, Ian. “He used his duck two-fold. The doctors would use the duck to show him what they were going to do and then he would do it to the duck as well — many times over!”

They also added accessories to the Chemo Duck as needed. For example, the duck still has a cut-down NG tube from when Zack had to have one for a few months. They also gave Zack a toy medical kit, which he loved to use on the duck.

After three years, Zack finished his last chemo treatment in March 2011. Although he will continue to have yearly check-ups indefinitely, he is now considered a full-fledge cancer survivor!

When asked about what he would share with other parents who are going through the journey of cancer with their child, Ian’s father said, “Time does pass, things do get better! Zack was under treatment for almost three years, but it has been almost six years since his treatment stopped. It is both the longest and fastest time I have ever experienced.”

Ian continues, “Never give up, never doubt. Cry you heart out — let it all go! Accept all the help you are offered. You can always turn it down later, but if you say no first, they may not offer again. Don’t be too proud. And lastly, while this can be an incredibly challenging experience for you and your child, it’s important to do whatever it takes to minimize the bad times and maximize the good ones!”

Today, Zack is still dealing with a wide range of issues, including Klinefelter Syndrome, brain damage from chemo (which is extremely rare), Autism, Global Developmental Delays and Epilepsy.

And while he is emotionally and educationally behind in comparison to his physical age, overall he is a very genuinely happy, warm and loving boy! He loves anything fire, fire engine or fireman-related and is in the Special Needs arm of the Fire Cadets. He also loves anything transport-related and can often be found playing pretend, driving a taxi, fire engine, bus or plane in his mind — and when they “break down,” he is quick to step in and fix them.

“He is becoming ever more aware that he is different,” said Ian. “But he battles on regardless. He will always provide a smile when asked and will share almost anything with you if you’ll be his friend. Anyone who spends even a little time with him say they love him — he is just one of those lovable type of people!”

Everyone with the Gabe’s Chemo Duck Program is thrilled to have Zack as a member of our Chemo Duck gang. His perseverance and positive-attitude is an inspiration to us all!