Education

Keys teen turns her cancer into a positive

Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank congratulates Sydney Hamilton (center) and Kayla Abramowitz of North Palm Beach on being named Florida's top two youth volunteers in Florida in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. This was on May 1 at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank congratulates Sydney Hamilton (center) and Kayla Abramowitz of North Palm Beach on being named Florida's top two youth volunteers in Florida in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. This was on May 1 at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

At age 2, Sydney Hamilton was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer and not given much time to live. Now she's a robust Key West High School senior on a mission.

Two years ago, she started Sydney's Hope Project, which provides games, organizes special events and supervises craft projects at the Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami, where children undergo cancer treatment.

"As a 15-year-old cancer survivor, I have lived and endured the challenges that a child with cancer must overcome to survive," she said. She was reminded of the challenges two years ago when a family friend was diagnosed with the same cancer she had.

That was the genesis of Sydney's Hope Project and this month, she was one of just 102 students in the U.S. to be named a state honoree in the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. The other Florida recipient is from North Palm Beach.

At the beginning of the month, Hamilton traveled to Washington, D.C. -- all expenses paid -- for four days of national Spirit of Community recognition events that included receiving a $1,000 prize and engraved silver medallion.

There's no pediatric oncology unit in the Florida Keys so that's why she bases her volunteer work at the Miami hospital. It includes a program in which the young patients are given "bravery beads" for each procedure or other event they go through during their treatment.

Her mission is not only easing the burden on the children with cancer but also to show people "how each and every one of us has the ability to improve a day in the life of a child with cancer."

The Prudential awards program, in its 21st year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals. The other national honorees were awarded for such things as ensuring "food-insecure" peers have enough to eat outside of school and creating a music therapy program for premature babies.

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