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When Childhood Cancer Treatment Includes Clowns


How a clown named Miss Sydney helped so many kids battling cancer.

It was around 1982 when I first saw her. I believe she was dressed like a clown. Actually, I'm pretty sure she was. She had the face paint and all — pushing a cart around the children's chemo clinic in Atlanta. Her cart was packed full of goodies - toys and candy that she would hand out to the kids in the clinic who were waiting for treatment or to see a doctor. Sometimes she'd give you crayons, sometimes she'd give you a little toy soldier with a parachute, and sometimes she'd even let you pick what you wanted. Whatever I got, it didn't matter, I loved surprises. But whatever I got, I would still get just as sick from my chemo treatments as always, that part was no surprise and never changed. However, with each visit to the clinic, Miss Sydney gave me something to look forward to. She helped me and other kids get through it.

I'll admit, when I first saw Miss Sydney, a woman in her late 50s, I didn't know what to think. I mean, I was a small kid. I was around 5 years old and I always thought clowns were kinda creepy. She would go around the clinic visiting kids, one-by-one. She would laugh with some, hug most and trying to keep some from crying. With me, she would usually go between being playful and very serious — asking how I was feeling and giving me hugs – but she always tried to make me laugh.

Miss Sydney was great though, really. She always appeared to be happy, and how, I don't know. She was literally surrounded by scores of sick kids who had no idea how serious their health conditions were, and parents pretending the same so that their kids could live feeling as secure and normal as possible.

Miss Sydney also worked in the main hospital, visiting kids who had just had procedures or who were very sick. I can even remember after one particular surgery of mine, I was in the hospital, groggy, out of it and wanting to be somewhere else (home). That's when Miss Sydney poked her head through the doorway of my hospital room.

"Is that you Ryan? Can I come in? I might have something just for you," Miss Sydney would say.

She made me feel like I was the only kid she was there to see. That was something she was good at doing, making you feel special.

At the time, I didn't understand much, sometimes I still don't. However, now I've learned to understand and appreciate what Miss Sydney was all about. She set out daily with one goal in mind, to make life easier for kids who were sick and scared - and she did just that.

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