At the beginning of 2001, we were a happy, go-lucky family but by July of that same year our lives as we knew them came to a halt. At three-years-old I was diagnosed with a stage three Wilms’ Tumor that had metastasized to other lymph nodes in surrounding areas. I underwent intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments. These treatments debilitated me from being able to walk, eat and be a normal kid. All hope was taken away from my family the day I entered the hospital’s hospice program. The doctors told my family that I had a few months left to live, and I was eligible for a “wish” from my local wish granting organization. This was a scary month for both my family and the country, as it was during the same time as 9/11. Little did I know how my cancer and this trip would change the course of my life.
As a little girl, princess were some of my favorite things in the world because I believed they could make magical things happen. So, I wished to be a princess and had my wish fulfilled when I spent the most magical week of my life at Give Kids The World Village. Upon arrival at the Village, I was extremely weak and tired and spent the first day in bed not realizing what magic awaited me outside the doors of our villa. As the week progressed, something magical started to happen. I started to regain my strength, my appetite and my sense of childlike wonder. My mother now tells me that she cried tears of happiness, not sadness, because she saw that I had closed my eyes to the sad black-and-white world of my illness and opened them again to a world full of color.
There were varying thoughts about my spike in energy being from the lack of chemicals infusing my body, but I knew exactly what it was. It was what I call the magical medicine of Give Kids The World. For the first time since I was diagnosed with cancer, we all started to laugh again. We were so busy having fun at the Village that we forgot about my cancer and my prognosis. We spent the week running – literally – around the fairytale resort where we indulged in ice cream for breakfast every morning and a sit-down dinner in the whimsical Gingerbread House every night. I spent my days playing in the enchanted Castle of Miracles, riding the magical carousel, splashing in the pool at the Park of Dreams and taking pictures with my new best friends: Mayor Clayton and Ms. Merry. In the evenings I danced and sang at the nightly entertainment activities. Our happiness was triple fold when we found out that there would be Christmas – complete with presents, Santa Claus and snow. My mom thought it may be the last Christmas that we would have together.
Give Kids The World and its army of dedicated volunteers sparked so much happiness and hope in my fragile body that I felt confident to go see my doctors again. We traveled back home to Wisconsin and my doctors suggested that I try one more round of chemotherapy and radiation. I, as a child, did not understand why my doctors wanted to do another round of chemo. I felt that I was better, so I told them “I don’t need chemo. Give Kids The World made me better. Send all the kids to Give Kids The World so they can get better too.” Of course, I did not get my way and received more chemo. For the first time ever, my body started responding positively to the treatments and my tumor started to shrink. The doctors said it was a miracle, but I knew it wasn’t a miracle. It was the magical medicine of Give Kids The World that saved my life. I believe that in life we will all face trials and adversities, and we can either let them destroy us or we can grow from them, finding ways to help others who are also struggling.
I decided to pay my gratitude forward by dedicating my life to spreading hope on behalf of the Village. Since my wish trip to the Village in 2001, I have spoken about the magic of the Village at countless schools, corporations, conferences, events and television interviews in an effort to raise awareness and funds for this amazing organization from elementary school up until today. I have also taken on the role of a volunteer. During that time, I met dozens of families going through the same heartache that my family had, and I listened to their stories of hope; I listened to their laughter; I saw their smiles. I witnessed a love so great that it could heal sick children just by providing a week of unforgettable happiness that inspires hope in each one of them.
After receiving my high school diploma, I decided to pursue my degree in Marketing and Communications at the University of Wisconsin- Whitewater from where I recently graduated! And now our whole world is changing once again and each of us is faced with how to approach life through these uncertain times.
I know with all my heart, that Give Kids The World gave me the strength to survive and to be standing here today. I know now that it wasn’t my time to die at age three – there are too many children and families out there who need to hear a message of hope and I know I am one of the individuals blessed to be able to deliver it.
So, I write to you from my house today, to remind you that we’re not alone in this and that the magic of the Village is in all of us who have experienced its color, wonder and hope. Its gates will open again, and for now we carry its hope in our heart and know that we’re in this together, as a Village family.