I never thought that we’d be ‘that’ family. You know, the one with a child whose life-threatening illness qualified her for a wish through Make-A-Wish (MAW). At first, it never occurred to me that Hannah would be qualified for a wish. I thought, like many people do, that only kids with terminal illnesses qualify. And nobody wants to think of their child as ‘dying’, even if they’ve been diagnosed with cancer. But that’s not the case. The qualification is specifically, “those diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions – a progressive, degenerative or malignant condition that has placed the child’s life in jeopardy” as determined by the child’s doctor. According to the Make-A-Wish website, many of the children receiving wishes go on to survive and live full lives.
When Hannah’s tumor recurred in her lung and she began chemotherapy in 2015, her doctor asked if we’d considered a wish. We hadn’t realized she qualified, but apparently she did – and had even after her original diagnosis and surgery in 2013. That was news to us. And when we mentioned the idea to Hannah, she thought it sounded ‘awkward’. Her social worker talked to her about it as well. The idea of a wish is something that helps get a lot of kids through tough treatment regimens. For Hannah, it took a few months before she got comfortable enough to say yes and have the referral made.
When you are referred for a wish, you are assigned to a couple of ‘Wish Granters’. These volunteers meet with the child and family to help determine what he/she wants and to work on everything needed to get the wish granted. There is also a Wish Coordinator – this is a staff person at MAW who actually does the paperwork to officially gets the wish approved and coordinates the logistics.
Hannah and I met with her wish volunteers in 2015 and talked through options. Wishes aren’t just trips. Kids can choose to wish for many different things, like shopping sprees, to meet celebrities, ‘be’ someone for a day (like a fireman or policeman, nurse or even a superhero). They can wish for something concrete like a playhouse or a room makeover. It’s all based on what the child wants (and what’s reasonable for the family). Ron and I weren’t thrilled with the idea of a shopping spree since we have a fairly small house and have been trying to reduce clutter. Hannah’s not a big shopper so she wasn’t much interested in that idea anyway. Once Hannah finally accepted the concept of being eligible for a wish, a trip was really her only thought.
Ron and I thought she might choose a cruise to Alaska or to see the Iditarod, since she’s always loved huskies and sled dogs. I think maybe a year or two earlier, she may have gone that route. We discussed trips to other places – we’d already been to Disney, so that was never something she considered. She considered trips to Greece or Rome since she loves the Percy Jackson books, or maybe trying to meet Rick Riordan (the Percy Jackson author). But in the end, she kept coming back to Harry Potter, something she’s loved ever since she first learned to read.
There are a lot of different Harry Potter themed places to visit. She could have chosen Universal Studios in Orlando or Hollywood. We’d been to the Orlando one, but it was before the addition of the Diagon Alley portion of the park, which we know she wants to see. But the timing worked out well for what she ultimately chose. The new play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, had recently been announced and shows were starting that summer. We talked over the idea of being able to meet J. K. Rowling, but found out that she doesn’t do that kind of thing. I think she’d be completely swamped with requests if she did, so completely understand. At the time, the play was only on stage in London, so we waited to hear if her Make-A-Wish trip would be granted.
Now different MAW chapters have different requirements, as I’ve discovered from reading posts in various childhood cancer Facebook groups. Some chapters allow certain things or others. I can’t speak for any of the other chapters, but we’ve had nothing but a wonderful experience with the Michigan MAW chapter. They did everything they could to make Hannah’s Make-A-Wish trip incredible and accommodate as much of what she wanted as possible. All five of us were able to travel together as a family – our first overseas vacation together.
The Harry Potter play has been incredibly popular in London. So much so that more shows were added to extend it out for longer. Even with the pull of Make-A-Wish, they couldn’t get tickets any sooner than over a year away from the original referral. So Hannah was given a choice. If she didn’t want to wait so long, she could choose something else that would mean a wish granted more quickly. Or if she didn’t mind waiting over a year, they could grant her original wish.
Hannah chose to wait. She was very definite by this time that she wanted to see the Cursed Child play in London for her wish and she didn’t mind waiting. Neither did Ron and I. We knew that by the time the trip happened, Hannah would be done with chemo and have her strength and health back (provided all went well). That way she would be able to enjoy the trip much more and not have to deal with medications, nausea and blood count checks while we were gone.
It was exciting to have the trip to look forward to for so long. Hannah’s wish volunteers kept in touch and surprised her with little Harry Potter themed gifts along the way. Once the trip was ‘official’ around Hannah’s 14th birthday, they surprised her with a Harry Potter birthday cake announcing the exact date of our trip.
Thankfully our whole family are big Harry Potter fans, so everybody was on board for a Harry Potter wish experience. We talked to the other girls about this trip being Hannah’s specific wish, so what we got to do was her choice overall. We also talked to Hannah about accommodating anything that her sisters might want to do as well, if possible. Everyone thought that the British Museum, Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and Sherlock Holmes Museum would be fun to visit if we had time.
I’ll write more about the actual trip in a separate post – this would be more like a book if I described it all here. It’s been 8 months since our London visit and the girls still talk about their experiences there often. Hannah and I miss the city the most, I think. She came home determined that she’ll look into options to travel there again, or even study abroad in college.
Overall, we are so grateful to Make-A-Wish. The timing worked out perfectly in terms of Hannah’s health. She’d gained her strength back and was off of all medications by the time we traveled. Having the trip to look forward to helped her get through the end of her treatment and the transition afterward back to being a ‘normal’ teenage girl. And being able to travel together as a family and reconnect after such a stressful time was amazing.