I remember clearly my plans for November 2, 2016. My work to-do list was stacked with the launch of a brand new product, a few business calls, and the usual Wednesday check-up tasks. I had planned to cook spaghetti, teach the 6th grade Frontline class that night at church, and do a few loads of laundry.
By 9am all of that was derailed via ambulance, admission to the pediatric ICU, and a big fat diagnosis of “cancer.”
It’s funny how life seems so overwhelming until something really big happens. Suddenly the little things like laundry and spaghetti become meaningless. We spent nearly a month in and out of the hospital that first month between the initial surgery to remove my 6-year-old son’s egg yolk-sized brain tumor and then to deal with the complications that followed. You’d think the everyday worries of life would fade away given such a backdrop, but they didn’t.
The clothes still got dirty, kids still needed to eat, but now we added tubes, blood draws, MRIs, chemo, and hospital stays to the list of “normal life.”
It’s safe to say that Wednesday in November was derailed. In fact, much of our life was derailed. Although we did our best to maintain stability, it’s easy to look back 1.5 years later and see how “new” our “normal” life became.
Many people define their lives in stages of “before” and “after.” Before we had children and after we got married, are just two of the most common. These phrases tell of times past and differences fondly (and sometimes not so fondly) remembered. In our family, the continental divide is “before cancer” and “after cancer.”
It’s not something you purposely plan. It’s not even a label you want to put on things, but somehow you do. The big things in life have a way of changing everything from where you do your laundry all the way to how much you trust God in the process. They create a division of before and after that just can’t be denied.
Although Luke doesn’t really remember life before cancer the same way the rest of the family does, even he knows our family has experienced deep change as a result. But make no mistake, much of that change, as difficult as it was, has blessed us in ways we couldn’t have fathomed. Luke has said cancer was the best thing that ever happened to him. And he’s right.
In fact, he whispered those words to me the night before his Make-a-Wish trip and has continued to shout it to anyone who will listen since then. It’s one thing for me to see the bright side of things, but for this precious 7-year-old boy to look beyond the needles, nausea, and chronic leg pain to say something like that was simply incredible.
Along the way, Luke had the opportunity to make friends with dozens of doctors, nurses, patients, families, and organizations. For him, that was one of the biggest parts of the blessing. He loved seeing his friends each week at the hospital (no I don’t mean the other kids–I mean the nurses, lab techs, and receptionists).
He also loved the opportunities he had because of cancer.
At the top of the list was the extra time with mom he got during chemo infusions and hospital stays. (Who could blame the baby of 4 kids for loving time with his working single mama?) He also loved the special time with his siblings during chemo, hospital stays, or even when he wasn’t feeling well from the chemo. But most of all, he loved his WISH!
The Blessing of Make-a-Wish
As you can already imagine, this quality family time is what made the opportunity to go on a Make-A-Wish trip so special. In fact, when I asked each of the 4 children why they loved the trip, the answer included being able to spend time together as a family–bonding, talking, and celebrating the precious moments of life.
Today I’m excited to share with you the details of our wish and a little glimpse into what made it so special to us.
The process started with volunteers who befriended Luke with conversation of things OUTSIDE of the hospital. They laughed, dreamed up crazy fun ideas like owning every LEGO set in the world and talked about the things that make you smile. Luke chose to go to LEGOLAND in California for his wish. He wanted to build LEGOs, go whale watching, and see the Pacific Ocean all while spending time with his family. A bit of a motley mix, but I don’t think anything is impossible for the Make-A-Wish foundation.
I can not tell you what a blessing their (mostly volunteer) coordinators were in this process. They listened to him, loved on him, and threw multiple celebrations in his honor. Absolutely every detail of the trip was taken care of and every possible need already provided for. All we had to do was show up and have fun. (Insert the amen from this full-time working/homeschooling/business-owning single mama!)
We flew to San Diego where we spent the first 6 days at the LEGOLAND hotel. During those days our agenda looked a little like this:
Day 1: Travel and explore the LEGOLAND Hotel
Day 2: LEGOLAND park, tide pools in LaJolla, and hanging out with the seals
Day 3: LEGOLAND Master Builder Tour
Day 4: Balboa Park, In-N-Out Burger, Aquarium
Day 5: Sea World
Day 6: San Diego Zoo
Every single one of those days was an amazing blessing to us, but the highlight was day 3. On this day, Luke was taken on a behind the scenes Master Builder Tour. We got to see how the master builders put together all of the LEGO creations displayed in the park and the hotel. The process was fascinating and Luke loved it.
After the tour, our guide had Luke build a replica of himself. His brother Nathan also built a replica. At first this seemed odd to be building two copies of Luke, but everyone rolled with it. He added just the right hair, clothing, and details until “Luke” was perfect.
Next, our tour guide announced that Luke would get to take one of his replicas out into the park and place it on display in the USA mini-figure city of his choice. We absolutely couldn’t BELIEVE it! Luke was beyond excited to have a replica of himself on display in LEGOLAND forever. The smile on his face couldn’t be contained!
Luke chose to place his figure in Grand Central Station in New York City. He is standing on the left stairwell, holding the rail and watching all of the people walk by. After we placed his figure, our guide told Luke about the other wish kids who had their replicas placed throughout the USA. We walked through in awe as she pointed them out and reminisced about how special each wish kid was.
The entire experience was such an amazing privilege and honor for him. He has loved LEGOs for years and used them to help him get through many long hospital stays and chemo infusions. Building with bricks has become one of his all-time favorite treasures, so naturally being a part of the mini-town USA display at LEGOLAND California was truly a blessing we couldn’t have even thought to ask for! Here is a close up of his figure:
There are two wish kids standing behind him to the right. The boy with a red and white striped shirt and the one with multi-colored stripes and an orange hat.
We left the LEGOLAND Hotel after day 6 with full hearts and deep gratitude for all Make-A-Wish had done for us. BUT, the trip was far from over. We were able to extend our time a few extra days and take advantage of some other things in the area. Our extended journey looked like this:
Day 7: Whale Watching Cruise on the Pacific Ocean and USS Midway Museum
Day 8: Old Town San Diego and beach day
Day 9-11: Disneyland
You can see all of the pictures from our trip in this public album on Facebook. You DON’T need an account to see the photos. While you are browsing through the album, I’m sure you’ll notice how big the smiles are. Even looking back on them brings that same wave of emotion I felt on the trip.
As a mom, it has been incredible to watch my kids rally around each other. It melted my heart to watch them push their brother around an amusement park in a wheel chair while flashing his “wish kid” badge like he owned the place. They loved seeing their brother doing something other than the “hard things.”
Honestly, it was good for us all to think only about what fun souvenirs we wanted to bring home or what fancy buffet we wanted to enjoy for dinner instead of juggling the many difficult balls of cancer, chronic pain, nausea, medical bills, laundry, and more… even if it was just for a few days.
No one ever signs up for cancer or dreams of going on a Make-A-Wish trip. But if life hands you lemons, a Make-A-Wish trip is one of many great ways to make lemonade. What a privilege it is to have a foundation that makes lemonade and hands it out graciously to families living a life of “new normals” no one can plan for or imagine until it happens. This is the blessing of Make-A-Wish.
Luke says it best, “I think every kid with cancer needs to take a Make-A-Wish trip so they don’t have to think about needles and hospitals and stuff… at least for a few days.”