Caregiving teen motivated to live every day to the fullest

Delaney Dalton, a 16-year-old junior at Boca Raton Community High School, may seem like the typical teenager when you meet her, but the last three years have matured her beyond her years.

She is part of the American Association of Caregiving Youth, founded by Boca Raton resident Connie Siskowski. Hundreds of Palm Beach County students are being helped by the organization to keep up with their education while they provide much-needed care to critically ill family members. It is part of the first U.S. comprehensive program to address the challenges faced by children who sacrifice their education, health, well-being and childhood to provide care for family members who are chronically ill, injured, elderly or disabled known as The Caregiving Youth Project.

The project reduces barriers to learning and provides needs-driven direct services such as in-school skills-building and support groups from grade 6 to 12; regular Lunch & Learn sessions; resource links for families, respite, computers, tutoring, and solutions for special needs; and for out of school, overnight camp, picnics, cooking, mentoring, and educational and fun activities.

“When I was around 13, my mother got diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. She ended up getting a double mastectomy and thankfully is fully recovered,” Dalton said.

She takes care of her mother every day, doing as much as possible for her: laundry, providing emotional support, grocery shopping, cleaning — whatever needs to be done, including care of the dogs, chores such as dishes and prep meals, and occasionally, she helped empty her drains from the double mastectomy surgery.

“Eleven months later, my father got diagnosed with Stage 4 head and neck cancer. He has no expected recovery. My father’s rare cancer is called cancerous parotid gland,” she said.

“Helping my father, I always have a smile on my face. I usually see him on weekends. Spending time with him is particularly important to me because he has sacrificed so much for me. The least I could do is care for him right now.

“After moping around after my dad’s diagnosis and contemplating why the universe was trying to take my parents away from me, I decided to change my attitude,” Dalton said. “I started high school and saw a club called Teens of Pink Ribbon. I decided to join and became an active participant, finding new friends and purpose. Today, I am co-president of this club. I use the club to make my voice heard and spread awareness about how cancer can affect anybody’s life.”

She said she is proud to have gotten her driver’s license and a job in a restaurant, but she is working to improve her grades.

“I have also faced personal challenges, which I am working on improving, such as acceptance by my peers and realizing that everything happens for a reason and things aren’t always going to go my way,” Dalton said.

“Having coped with so much family heartache at my age and seeing that life could be taken from anybody so abruptly, I am motivated to live my life every day to the fullest.”

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She has always looked up to the late singer Amy Winehouse.

“She taught me that it is OK to not fit into society’s standards, to be different, and to express myself through music,” Dalton said.

Her favorite movie is “The Edge of Seventeen.” She said she relates to the main character, Nadine, and the movie’s message: “No matter what life throws at you, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”

Marisol Goffman is Dalton’s American Association of Caregiving Youth family specialist.

“I can attest Delaney, as a youth caregiver, is not one to back down from a challenge, either academic or personal. I have known Delaney since the ninth grade and attest to her character and growth in academic and interpersonal skills.”

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