Saying goodbye to Sissy

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The first person to hold her was also the last. She died in her mother's arms.

Cheyanne "Sissy" Chantry, 6, lost her battle with a brain tumor and was laid to rest Saturday at Phoenix Memorial Park. About 500 people attended her funeral service at Shadow Mountain Mortuary in Phoenix. Family and friends sobbed and laughed as they said goodbye to a spunky girl who seized their hearts with her smile and through her own joy - brought happiness to the people around her.

"I don't know how to explain that kind of joy," said Linda Conaway, a longtime family friend. "Every time I saw her she was always smiling and having fun."

In the end, the tumor wrapped around her brain stem. It had once been eradicated through six weeks of radiation treatments, but later came back with a vengeance. Her parents, Melanie Thomas and Cavin Chantry, watched the tumor shut down more and more of Sissy's motor and sensory functions as each day passed.

Time slid away faster and faster. Last April, doctors at the internationally renowned Barrow Neurological Institute of St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix predicted Sissy would live two years. On Thanksgiving Day they gave her three months. On Jan. 16 they said two days to two weeks - she died the next day.

Thomas had summoned family and friends who flocked to her Tonopah home to say goodbye and support each other. They stayed throughout the day, and into the night, waiting for the end.

"Life just started slipping away ...we all gathered in the bedroom, with her on the bed, everybody could take turns laying with her," said Carrie Burkholder-McDevitt, Sissy's aunt. "It took a long time. I don't think she wanted to leave, she just didn't want to leave."

Thomas softly told Sissy, "It's OK to go now."

"I had her in my arms, I kept her in my arms," Thomas said. "All I could do was hold her, just hold her."

She was happy
After the Thanksgiving prognosis, Thomas took Sissy out of first grade at Ruth Fisher Elementary School in Tonopah. She decided to spend the time they had left doing whatever Sissy chose to do.

"I want her happy," Thomas had said.

Sissy's needs seemed simple: ride a pony, play in the snow, go grocery shopping, make ice cream and sit on Santa's lap.

Sissy's family expressed gratitude to the people who donated money and said prayers to make Sissy's last days as happy as possible. Several fundraisers, and donations to bank accounts set up in her name, totaled just more than $34,000.

"How would we have done all this?" McDevitt said. "It's thanks to all of our friends and family and complete strangers who fell in love with Cheyanne."

The Make-A-Wish Foundation paid for Thomas, Sissy, and her two brothers Chad, 8, and Chase, 10, to take a trip to Disneyworld Dec. 17. The family used donated funds to send 14 family members along too; Sissy wanted the people she loved with her.

McDevitt said a stranger, "an incredible guy named Carl," donated all his airline miles, which paid for her and her children's plane tickets.

On Jan. 11, the family took Sissy to Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm in California. The tumor's effect on Sissy's health marred the trip.

"We felt cheated, we didn't even get the three months," said Leslie Dennis, Sissy's grandmother. "But, no matter how bad Sissy felt - she was always smiling. I think that gave us the strength."

A Jan. 20 fundraiser brought in about $20,000 for funeral costs. Thomas said it paid for everything, including the services, casket, gravesite, headstone, burial and reception.

"I thank everyone for everything they have done," she said. "I couldn't have done this without help."

Smiling 'til the end
Sissy loved pink. Her room and most of clothes and toys were pink. At her funeral, soft pink light bathed the small white casket surrounded by dozens of sprays and baskets of pink flowers. Nearby, Sissy's favorite stuffed toys and dolls encircled her portrait, including the silly cat, the funny cat, the singing bear and Sleeping Beauty.

Sissy said Aurora was her favorite princess and her family chose to have Sissy buried in her Sleeping Beauty princess costume.

In December, Thomas had said she believed God was bringing to Sissy whatever she wanted. For instance, on a drive from Tonopah to Phoenix, Thomas said she was fascinated to see clouds covering the desert floor on both sides of Interstate 10.

"It was beautiful, I've never seen clouds like that, on the ground," Thomas said. "It was so odd, like we were driving in the clouds."

From the back seat, Sissy blew a kiss to the sky.

"She said, 'Thank you, God. I always wanted to see what it was like to be in the clouds,'" Thomas said.

The family's pastor, Jerry Neal of Laveen Baptist Church in southwest Phoenix, said Sissy touched many people's lives.

"Joy is a good word to describe it," he said. "She was smiling all the time, even right there at the end, still smiling."

Neal said he believed Sissy had a genuine love of people.

"That's part of the legacy this little girl will give us, she loved people, she didn't let a lot of the stuff get in the way," he said. "I think we should learn from that."

Thomas said that when she would tell Sissy she loved her more than anyone or anything, Sissy would reply, "No Momma, you need to love God the most. God first, then me."

Rebecca I. Allen can be reached by e-mail at

Rebecca I. Allen
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