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STOP! In The News

Group Raises Children's Spirits on Valentine's Day

Hometown News


By Sarah Stover, Staff Writer
Photos by Hobie Hiler

NORTH PALM BEACH—Cupid aimed his bow at some unsuspecting Valentines this year.

Stop! Children’s Cancer of Palm Beach County, a nonprofit organization, based in North Palm Beach, distributed Valentines to children on the oncology floor at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in West Palm Beach.

Every holiday, a group from Stop! Children’s Cancer throws a party for the children to raise their spirits.

"When you raise money for things, you don’t see where it’s going, but this is very hands-on," said Delores Colton, Stop!’s president.

The organization was formed in 1983 to help find a cure for children’s cancer through research.

The group raises money that goes into an endowment, which is used to pay for the doctors to do research. The endowment is around $1.5 million, said Tana Gaskill, a member of the group.

"It’s a great thing," she said.

The group gives away anything they receive and pay for expenses on their own.

Justin Syden, 19, was the only patient who could attend the party.

"There was a whole bunch of children with fevers, so they couldn’t come to the party," said Sarah Brummer, a child life specialist at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.

"The number of patients on the floor varies every time we come. Today there’s seven, but we like it when there’s less," said Ms. Colton.

The women, including Regina Bedoya of Juno Beach, decorated Tupperware boxes for the kids to put Valentines in, but some were already included.

"All the board members signed Valentines (for the kids) at the last meeting, said Mrs. Colton.

The women passed out the boxes, cupcakes, balloons and goodie bags.

Justin’s friend, Shana Pollack, also brought him a Valentine and joined the party.

He had been diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma of the spinal cord, a rare form of bone cancer, said his mother, Sheree Syden.

Her brother died of the same form of cancer when he was 13.

"Pretty much when Justin was diagnosed, I felt like it was a death sentence," said Ms. Syden.

His tumor was inoperable because of its location, so he had radiation and chemotherapy. Three weeks ago, his lungs collapsed, so he was taken to Shands Hospital in Gainesville.

When Justin had an MRI at Shands, doctors discovered his cancer was cured.

That was a Valentine for the women of Stop! Children’s Cancer.

"He was such a delight, and for once, we got good news. We see the same kids again and again when we come here and emotionally, it’s very hard, said Ms. Colton.

"They took wonderful care of him at Shands and they do here, too. We love everyone here and they’ve become like family," said Ms. Syden.

Justin has decided to follow in the footsteps of those who helped him during this difficult past year.

"I’m going to be a child life specialist." He said.

Life specialists work with the children, tell them about their conditions and what they can expect.

"We provide support and distraction for the family and the children when they come to the hospital. We’re here as a friend. Justin’s definitely a good candidate for child life work," said Ms. Brummer.

As part of her job, she deals with volunteers who want to help. She helped the womens’ group arrange the party.

"We definitely rely on outside people to come in with donations and fun ideas. Holidays are important and a great to get their spirits up," said Ms. Brummer.

"Cancer’s a big thing in a child’s life, but if you can make a joke about it, it makes it so much easier for everyone", said Justin.

As the women made their rounds, they stopped in to see Matthew Monnette and his mother, Lyn. Matthew, 5, was in the organization’s fashion show last year, which was also a fundraiser. He hopes to participate again this year.

Lyn and Matthew came in Feb. 13 because he had a fever. Matthew was diagnosed with acute lyphomic leukemia in March 2004.

"He’s never once said, why me," said Mrs. Monette.

The children were happy to receive sweets and gifts on the holiday of love, and that’s what makes it worthwhile, group members said.

"These kids are so appreciative. Their attitude is so great." Said Ms. Gaskill.

"I think its just knowing you’re doing something to make these children feel like normal, fun-loving kids and they’re not thinking about how sick they are," said Ms. Colton.

Stop! Children’s Cancer will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day at the hospital.

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