Tomorrow, April 29, is World Wish Day, an occasion to highlight the good work of the Make-A-Wish Foundation in granting the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions.
The Foundation has lots of moving stories to tell about children and their families whom they’ve helped. I have one and I’d like to share it.
In 2006, Marcus was 15 when he was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma, an aggressive brain cancer. The day he came home from the hospital after having received his diagnosis, his parents called his three younger brothers into the living room and, in honest yet age-appropriate terms, told them what would be happening in their family. The younger ones could already see the scar of a five-hour surgery and would soon learn about radiation and chemotherapy. This isn’t the time to tell the long version of the story, but Marcus courageously endured six weeks of radiation therapy (and the 180-mile daily drive to get it), followed by many months of chemo. He continued to go to school, play baritone in his high school marching band, enjoy video games and indulge his acute interest in World War II aircraft. Books, movies, documentaries, websites and model planes fed his passion for the subject, and stirred his ambition to join the Air Force.
Marcus was aware of the uncertain nature of his condition—including the fact that his extensive head surgery might hamper his chances of serving in the military—but he kept looking ahead. Make-a-Wish and a local Air Force base invited him to be a pilot for a day and fly in an F-16 flight simulator. They gave him his own flight suit and his wings.
He responded well to treatment, facing occasional worrisome reports from the doctor, and did a remarkable job of getting on with life, taking whatever medications and treatments were ordered as time went on. Still, an uncertain prognosis loomed.
When he was 17, he wanted to visit Pearl Harbor and tour the USS Arizona Memorial. The Make-a-Wish Foundation made it happen. In August of 2008, they arranged for Marcus, his parents and his three brothers, to fly to Honolulu for a badly needed vacation and tours of the historic sites.
While in Hawaii, Marcus began having headaches and nausea, which became so severe that he went to the emergency room. Brain scans were sent to his doctor in Utah. His doctor advised the family to stay in Hawaii for the duration of the trip and to have as much fun as they could, while managing Marcus’ pain and discomfort. When the family landed in Salt Lake City, Marcus went straight to Primary Children’s Hospital, where it was discovered that his tumor had returned, was growing rapidly and was inoperable. Chemo might provide some relief and a remote chance of slowing the growth.
Marcus bravely said, bring it on, in whatever words he chose, but experienced the most violent reactions he had faced so far from the chemo. The next scans were discouraging, providing little hope. At the end of September, Marcus gave up treatment. He passed away on October 26th, and was buried with his Air Force pilot’s wings.
The point of this blog post is not to bemoan the evils of cancer or the unfairness of the impacts on its victims. The point is to share the news that Marcus and his family were able to live Marcus’ wishes of flying a fighter plane and visiting Pearl Harbor. The Foundation also knew how badly the family needed respite from two years of cancer hanging over their lives, and put them up at a lovely beach resort, where the kids could swim and enjoy each other, free from the grips of the “C” word.
Make-a-Wish can’t fulfill a wish for recovery. But it can make it possible for children all over the world who want to be police officers or pilots or whatever to achieve their dreams, even if they might never have the chance to be adults.
I’m grateful to Make-a-Wish and all who give to them for the gift they gave my nephew.
Please consider giving so others’ wishes might come true.
Happy World Wish Day.