On Dec. 25, 2018—Christmas Day—Sydney Galway, Arkansas, lost her battle with leukemia at the age of 21. Diagnosed at 18, Sydney was past the age to qualify for certain childhood cancer initiatives, like Make-A-Wish, even though she was treated in the pediatric oncology department. Teens and young adult cancer patients like Sydney often find themselves in between: not old enough to be considered an adult, but too old to get the support often earmarked for children.
While Sydney was in the hospital, her family, including older sister Dana Galway Wade, Arkansas, began plans to raise money to support other young adult patients in a similar situation. They created the nonprofit SydStrong to fulfill wishes for cancer patients in Sydney’s age group.
In early 2019, two months after Sydney passed away, Dana and her family moved forward with their fundraising plans. But as COVID-19 hit in 2020, they recognized an additional need—bringing holiday cheer to hospitalized patients during the pandemic.
Spreading Holiday Cheer
Dana knew from her sister’s experience that spending the holidays in the hospital is difficult. But, during COVID-19, it was going to be especially hard for young patients.
“During the pandemic, patients can’t see their families—they can only have one parent in the room at a time. When Sydney was in the hospital, our entire family got to be together with her in her room for Christmas,” she says. They had even put up a tree to help brighten her hospital room.
Remembering Sydney each year during the holidays is especially important, and the family decided the best way to honor her was to spread joy during this challenging year. They donated a tree to decorate every room on the pediatric oncology floor at Medical City Hospital in Dallas, Texas, and Dana and her mother were able to personally deliver the donations.
“The trees bring joy in and of themselves,” says Dana.
The hope is that the hospital can keep the trees to put up every year, and Dana and her family look forward to personally decorating the trees with the help of volunteers next year.
Giving back is a natural fit for Dana whose Tri Delta experience showed her the importance of helping others through philanthropy. Having a deeply personal connection to Tri Delta’s philanthropy makes it that much more special. “It motivates you,” she says. “Seeing the impact firsthand makes you more proud to be a Tri Delta.”
Sharing Two Kinds of Sisterhood
Following in her older sister’s footsteps, Sydney also joined Tri Delta at the University of Arkansas. For Dana, it was a dream come true to be able to share her Tri Delta sisterhood with her actual sister.
In Tri Delta, Sydney found a group of supportive friends. After being diagnosed with leukemia during her first semester, her Tri Delta sisters were there to let her know she was loved and cared for.
“They came to visit her in the hospital, which was so special,” says Dana. “I think she was expecting to be out of sight, out of mind, but they all got together during [recruitment] and sent her a video. We were very touched.”
Witnessing her sister’s experience makes it all the more important for Dana to provide support for other teens and young adults during cancer treatment. The goal is to not only continue uplifting patients and families during the holiday season, but to also fund a patient’s wish each year.
“Now that I’ve lived through that, I understand how the smallest thing can make such a big difference,” Dana says. “Our goal is to make someone smile.”