Hundreds of multi-colored and shaped beads swing from strands around Sydney Newton’s neck. Black beads. Glow-in-the-dark beads. Stars. Animals. Rapunzel. A purple heart.
Similar to a soldier receiving a Purple Heart for combat wounds, 12-year-old Sydney received hers six years ago for battling cancer and completing treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma.
“It gives me hope and shows me what I’ve done and that God helped me through my treatment,” said Sydney, whose inoperable tumor was discovered behind her left sinus cavity shortly after her fifth birthday.
Sydney collects Beads of Courage, which are given to children suffering life-threatening illnesses. Beads represent milestones, like nights in the hospital, blood transfusions, radiation and hair loss.
“These beads are for a child to help cope with what they’re going through,” said Jamie Newton, Sydney’s father.
Beads of Courage give children hope and a tangible reminder of their accomplishments, while also lending faith to parents, like Jamie and wife Cynthia.
The Tucson-based nonprofit has reached over 260 children’s hospitals worldwide since 2004.
Three months into her 11-month treatment at Children’s Hospital of Alabama, nurses gave Sydney beads spelling her name. Those first beads sparked an idea for Jamie, a NASA emergency services engineer in Huntsville.
“I thought, ‘We have three to four shuttle missions left. Let’s get beads on the shuttle,’” Jamie said.
Those space-themed beads flew into orbit and launched the Newtons’ Beads of Courage journey.
Today, Sydney is a seventh-grader at Athens Bible School in Limestone County and inspires others to give hope through Beads of Courage.
Shannon Norwood followed Sydney’s journey closely. Her daughter, Olivia, and Sydney are friends.
“It’s every parent’s worst fear to sit in a hospital room with your child suffering,” Norwood said. “Beads of Courage is a great way to motivate kids and give them something to look forward to.”
The Beads of Courage Carry A Bead program encourages bead sponsorships, where donors keep a bead and send one to a child in need, along with a comforting note.
Norwood works at TriGreen Equipment, which looks to roll out a handcrafted John Deere green tractor bead in 2017.
“I know there’s a little boy somewhere who is also battling cancer, loves tractors and loves the farm,” said Norwood, TriGreen’s integrated solutions manager. “We want to give these beads to farmers and have a bead stay on the farm and one go to the child. What kid doesn’t love playing in the dirt?”
Norwood is motivating farmers like Jonathan Spruell to Carry A Bead, and for Spruell, the cause hits especially close to home. At age 4, Spruell was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma. While Beads of Courage wasn’t around then, the now 34-year-old Lawrence County farmer said any encouragement children receive is immeasurable.
“To me, these beads show a milestone has been met,” Spruell said. “Each one brings back a memory and sense of victory.”
While recovering as a child, Spruell spent many hours in a tractor. Spruell beat pediatric cancer at age 8, but was diagnosed with bladder and prostate cancer when he was 27 and 32, respectively.
Even today, Spruell, whose disposition remains sunny, said he prefers recovering at the farm rather than home. Spruell said Beads of Courage provides vital benefits and encouragement to children as they heal, just as the goal of returning to the farm inspired him.
“When it’s all said and done, these beads show an accomplishment,” he said.
The Newtons raise funds for Beads of Courage through Sydney’s Coins for Courage each September, which is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. For each $5 donation, one bead lends hope to a child in need.
“We want to immediately get beads into kids’ hands,” Jamie said. “We look for any opportunity to help children here in Alabama and across the country.”
Sydney’s Coins for Courage has raised over $50,000 for Beads of Courage since 2011.
For families whose children don’t see their strands of beads to completion, beads tangibly remind parents of their children. As for the Newtons, Sydney is healthy, happy and six years cancer-free.
“To us, these beads show her victory over cancer,” Jamie said.
To give to Sydney’s Coins for Courage, visit GoFundMe.com/sydneyscfc2016.
For more on Beads of Courage, visit beadsofcourage.org.