I was diagnosed with leukemia while studying abroad in Okinawa, Japan in June 2016. I got sick shortly after arriving; it was bilateral pneumonia that put me in the hospital in the first place. After some blood tests, they found out I also had leukemia. My Japanese teacher called my parents and they flew over to Japan within 12 hours of hearing the news. I spent eight days recovering before I was able to fly back to the United States.
I started treatments for my leukemia at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital in Iowa City as soon as we got back stateside. I remember Mom telling me in those first few days that I was eligible for a Make-A-Wish®! That was a good distraction. I knew I wanted to travel, but where? I thought either Greece or Australia! That was kaibashed by my parents; I think their “surprise” trip to Japan still had them traumatized. So, I chose to stay closer to home and go to Maui, Hawaii!
I started my senior year of high school in August, two short months after starting treatments. I managed to graduate on time and walk across the stage. There were complications along the way, of course. Due to one of the drugs at the start of my treatment, I ended up with osteonecrosis, in my knees, shoulders, and hips. This is a very painful disease and delayed my wish trip. I finished my leukemia treatment in November 2018. The following summer of 2019, I had both of my hips replaced, due to the osteonecrosis. I was ready to travel! The impact that my wish had on my medical journey was that I had a goal for myself to be able to walk on the beach while in Maui. I had been in a wheelchair for the past few years prior to my hip replacements, due to osteonecrosis.
I was familiar with Make-A-Wish, as our family had donated in the past. But it had never occurred to us that we would ever benefit from this amazing organization ourselves. It felt as though there was much more to the wish process itself, something that didn’t occur more to me until I was in that place myself. It seemed like a dream to be planning my wish trip.
Our hope for my wish experience was to have time to relax and be together as a family. But there were still certain activities I wanted to experience, and we were able to with Make-A-Wish. On our first full day there, we got up early and were able to go whale watching. January, when we were there, was one of the best times to go and experience the whales migrating. We took tons of photos! Another day, we went snorkeling and thanks to Make-A-Wish, we took pictures with an underwater camera provided by my volunteer wish granters in my wish/gift box. Most of our Maui days were spent swimming in both the ocean or pool and walking on the beach. Oh, finally the sand between my toes! On our last night, we experienced a Luau. The food was wonderful, and we all got temporary tattoos.
Our trip to Maui gave us the type of bonding experience we had not had in a while. No health worries, just sand, sun and family memories. Being able to spend time so close to the ocean was one of the best things.
Please know how important it is for families to spend time together and forget all that they are going through or have been able to put in the rearview mirror. It is worth the time and money donated, a cause well worth your time.