Huggable Hope for Pediatric Cancer Patients
BY Amelia Rose Smith
Gabe’s Chemo Duck Program was created under the circumstances no parent should face – pediatric cancer. Just one week shy of Gabe Sipos’s first birthday, he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma (a soft tissue tumor) in his sinus cavity. Upon this life-changing news, Gabe’s parents, Lu and Rob Sipos, wanted to find a way to help their son understand his cancer treatment – thus, the idea for the original Chemo Duck was born.
As Gabe’s intense chemotherapy regimen began, Lu searched for a way to help her son understand what was happening. She found it through a stuffed animal with a big beak and orange feet…a duck! She dressed the duck in blue hospital pajamas, hand sewn by her, and borrowed syringes, a chemotherapy port and a blood pressure cuff to replicate what was being used in Gabe’s treatment. This instantly created a point of connection and understanding between Lu, Rob, the medical team, and of course, small but mighty Gabe.
Throughout their time at Monroe Carell Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University, Lu and Rob noticed how children gravitated toward Gabe, specifically his duck. One thing led to the next, and in 2004, Gabe’s Chemo Duck Program (GCDP) was founded. GCDP is a unique educational program offered by Gabe’s My Heart, a nonprofit organization that supports children and families living with cancer. It helps introduce children and families to their new life while encouraging healing through the power of play therapy. This program reaches thousands of patients across the United States. Lu explains, “Chemo Duck is free to families who have a child living with cancer. However, to allow us to continue running the program, we ask that if friends or extended family purchase it for a child, they cover the program’s costs. Hospitals purchase the program for their patients at a discounted price or are directly sponsored by donors.”
The soft, cuddly companion comes in two options; one has a Hickman line, also known as a central line, and wears a red bandana, while the other has a Port-A-Cath and wears a yellow bandana. All Chemo Ducks have a cover on their arm called a “no-no” arm immobilizer that helps hold the IV in place. Chemo Ducks also have deep belly buttons where Chemo Duck’s feeding tube goes.
Gabe’s involvement and commitment to his name-sake program have become integral to who he is as a young man. He says, “Chemo Duck was my best friend. He was always there as a buffer between the medical staff and me. I could always rely on him to be treated before myself.” Gabe is proud of the program created in honor of him and considers it a special way to preserve the memory of all the friends he made and lost during his journey through the world of childhood cancer. “Chemo duck has enabled me to stay connected to my cancer community and has grounded me. If ever I feel sorry for myself because of my side effects from cancer treatments, Chemo Duck reminds me of how lucky I am and how brave children can be in the face of adversity.” Gabe, a college sophomore, says, “After graduation, I hope to take a more prominent role in the daily running of Chemo Duck!”
For more information, visit Chemoduck.org. Also, show support on their Facebook and Instagram pages at @chemoduck.