Sydney Hedges was not able to attend the Rosebud-Treasure County Fair in Forsyth over the weekend, but she was there—and not just in spirit.
While the 15-year-old was in Denver being treated for a recurrence of brain cancer, other members of her Red Rock 4-H Club in Colstrip were showing her miniature steer and lamb, which they had spent weeks feeding, bathing, grooming and clipping.
During the steer judging, one friend set up a FaceTime session so Sydney could speak with the judge. And throughout fair weekend, 4-H members took “flat Sydneys”—doll-size cutouts with a photo of Sydney’s face mounted on them—to virtually every corner of the fair, so that she could be with them, and they with her.
“They pretty much had the crowd crying almost all the time,” Cherish Dudley said. “It was pretty intense.”
Cherish’s daughter, Emma, was the 4-H member who showed Sydney’s lamb, and Cherish’s sister-in-law, Lyndsey Dudley, is a co-leader of the Red Rock 4-H Club with Sydney’s mother, Angie Hedges.
Hedges, who is with her daughter in Denver, said the weekend was “kind of bittersweet, because she wasn’t there with her animals to show, but she was very loved and very involved, like she was there.”
Sydney, who will be a sophomore at Colstrip High School this fall, was first diagnosed with brain cancer in 2011. She had two surgeries then, followed by extensive radiation and chemotherapy.
“We weren’t ever clear, but we were not progressing, as they call it,” Hedges said. Then, in April, another tumor was discovered on Sydney’s brain and she underwent surgery again in early June, which is now being followed up on by 12 weeks of radiation and chemotherapy.
Hedges’ husband Dan, who works as a mechanic for Western Energy in Colstrip, goes down to Denver on weekends when he can. The Hedgeses have one other child, 19-year-old Nathan.
Lyndsey Dudley said that when Sydney was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and had to miss the fair that year, too, the 4-Hers tended her animals and saw to it that her 50-some projects were submitted to the fair. She regularly sewed with her grandmother and did other crafts with her, which accounted for some of her fair entries. She was also involved in cooking and photography.
In addition to raising sheep and miniature steers, she bred goats and sold them to other 4-H members and also raised dogs and cats she’d show at the fair.
“The first year I went to the fair, she had this stack of projects,” Lyndsey Dudley said. “And it’s no joke: it would take two pages of entry forms for her to enter everything. She’s so serious and prolific about it.
“She’s always been our poster child for someone who embraced everything 4-H can offer.”
Cherish Dudley said Sydney really threw herself into her animals and her fair projects after her illness forced her to give up volleyball and basketball. The other members of the 4-H club were amazed at all she did.
“The kids feel like it was quite an honor to be able to represent her at the fair,” she said.
In addition to the FaceTime session, the 4-Hers sent Sydney text messages throughout the fair, and there were regular updates on the club’s Facebook page, including numerous photos of various friends and family members with the “flat Sydneys.”
“It was really a group effort,” Cherish Dudley said. “They all jumped in.”
Emma Dudley, who showed Sydney’s market lamb, said it took first place out of 20 entrants. Sydney’s steer won first place, too—though he was the only one in his class. Her animals went for about $4,000, thanks to generous bidding, Lyndsey Dudley said, and donations were collected at the market stock sale, bringing in another $4,000.
Angie Hedges, whose family has been in Colstrip for eight years, said she wasn’t surprised by the kindness and generosity shown this weekend.
“It’s a great community,” she said. “Anybody in need—they all step up to help.”