A cancer diagnosis for a child can be a very scary thing, for the child and the parents! As many of you know, my daughter Maria was diagnosed in April of 2012 with leukemia and continues treatments until August of this year. While this is an unfortunate experience for a family, we have been blessed in many ways. Just this past week, our family enjoyed an all-expenses paid trip to Orlando, Florida, to enjoy Disney, Universal Studios, and Seaworld courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Since my usher family has been with us along the way, I wanted to share with you our “magical” journey…
Last Sunday, we departed from our driveway in a fancy stretch limousine that took us to a hotel near Chicago’s Midway Airport. Clearly drivers passing our limo knew we weren’t celebrities; what celebrity would hang hands out the window waving at people! The kids thought it was awesome! Mom and Dad just thought, oh well, another day in the life! 🙂 Early Monday morning, we boarded a plane and landed in sunny (but chilly) Orlando where we were greeted by Jojo from Give Kids the World Village, a resort complex near Disney in partnership with Make-A-Wish. Jojo was a member of the volunteer team who guides “wish” families through the airport and to our rental van. She greeted us with hugs and got us on our way to Disney World. Aren’t volunteers great!
Now if you’re wondering how we got to this point, let me share with you how a wish becomes a reality. Long ago, Maria picked a wish; many of you may recall that she had Broadway aspirations. Well as this wish became harder to achieve, Maria decided that a trip to our favorite “world” would be the best way to celebrate coming so far in this journey. So with paperwork completed, our Make-a-Wish consultant Mike told us that Maria’s packet of information was ready to give her at a special “wish” party. So we planned the surprise at my mother’s house with food and balloons on December 26th, and family was there to surprise Maria. Maria entered the family room to music playing…”A dream is a wish your heart makes….” and there she was presented with her wish packet and early souvenirs! Our trip in January would have us staying at Disney’s Contemporary Resort since the Give Kids the World Village was undergoing a Ty Pennington Extreme renovation.
So this brings us back to Disney as we drive to our luxury hotel. There, we had a 4:30 appointment with Janet who would give us park tickets and passes for Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld. While we waited until 4:30, the kids went shopping in the gift shop to purchase their special Glow with the Show hats (Mickey ears that would light up in time with the fireworks shows). Well, this marketing venture for Disney was a “miss;” unfortunately, they didn’t predict their popularity and wouldn’t have a shipment until March…..BUT when you’re wearing a “white badge of courage” button that reads Make-a-Wish, some folks don’t have to wait until March. Surprising the kids on their bed that night were two Minnie and Mickey stuffed animals wearing Glow with the Show hats! This was one of many surprises along the way!
And that is how our week played out. We were handed a special lanyard, our all-access pass to the front of every line at Disney, Universal, and Seaworld. While regular guests paid attention to stand-by line wait times, we couldn’t tell you what those ever said; we waited for nothing! We laughed because we did all of Magic Kingdom in 2 hours! How would we ever go back after experiencing such privileges? Even lines for princess & character autographs got us to the front of the line; we learned this from a Disney cast member after waiting on their first autograph, “You’re a Wish family; you don’t wait! It’s 4 hours to meet Elsa and Anna from Frozen; you go to the front of the line.” Well, despite the glares from mothers and tots waiting 4 hours, we were brought in through the exit to meet any and every character the kids wanted to meet.
Universal and Seaworld were no different. Personal escort to the front of every line at Universal, check. Feed the sting rays at Seaworld, check. Feed and pet the dolphins, check. Non-stop fun!
So that brings us back to this amazing place where these wishes all start, Give Kids the World Village. It was being renovated, but we were still welcome to visit. So we drove to this special place in Kissimmee that gives kids hope. It was at this village that Maria was able to write her name on a special magical star that would be placed on the ceiling of the Magic Castle, alongside thousands of others. That was powerful, seeing this ceiling covered with names of children who have graced these walls, enjoyed the same wish, and who have hopefully been cured of their illnesses. Names on this ceiling were hard to read, but we knew somewhere up there were several friends from home and even closer to home, our niece Megan Bennett who had a wish several years back. So Maria left her legacy at the village, ate a huge ice cream cone at the shop where kids can eat ice cream for breakfast, and set off with a reminder from village staff that we can return whenever we want! We were moved to tears!
So our tiaras and Mickey ears are off and we’ve returned home in between snow storms somewhat miraculously to our daily life! Maria had chemo Monday at Memorial, and we realized we are just SEVEN treatments away from our finish line! As I said earlier, we’ve been blessed along this journey; my wonderful ushers have been a support system for me when days were very difficult. Thank you for all you’ve done. Our family is left to wonder, what will the next phase of our journey be like?