Where do I begin? My old, standard answer to “How are you?” used to be: “my girls are happy and healthy, so I’m great!” All true until my happy daughter, Jillian, started to get sick at just 3 years old, losing energy and contracting a fever. Her doctor equated her symptoms to her teething. She soon after became lethargic, stomach distended, and would not eat or get off the couch. We took her back to the doctor and he felt her liver from one side of her belly to the other. We were immediately sent to the Emergency Room and on July 8th….our lives changed forever.
After scans, x-rays, bloodwork, and urine samples, the next thing we heard was tumor. Life kind of just stopped. I couldn’t understand how or why this was happening to my beautiful daughter. It got worse when they mentioned the word “Oncologist.” Normal life ended and the new life began as fighters. After four months of incorrect diagnoses, on July 11th, the doctor identified her condition as Neuroblastoma in critical condition: stage 4, high risk, and N-MYC positive. All these new terms, words, and phrases numbed and paralyzed me.
The tumor was about the size of a volleyball. Six rounds of chemotherapy and radiation started immediately along with MIBG and CT scans, bone marrow aspirate, blood and platelet transfusions, and stem cell harvesting. Jillian’s body reacted in agony: vomiting and not eating. All we could do was keep her happy thru it all. Within a few months, the tumor shrunk to the size of a tennis ball and surgeons in New York could remove it. This began the next phase of treatments: a Stem Cell transplant, radiation, and Immunotherapy—a new trial to help keep the cancer cells from growing back. Her official cancer free date post-treatment was September 21, 2014. The doctors, nurses, and staff in Nevada and New York helped her beat the demon known as cancer. All the positive thoughts, prayers, letters, and treatment from everyone paid off and tears of sadness and stress turned to tears of joy.
Make-A-Wish entered our lives as we went through treatment, via introduction from a friend and now a staff member, Krystal Bane, mentioning that Jillian might qualify for a Wish. Krystal is like family and bonded with Jillian like a sister. Once doctors confirmed Jilli’s medical eligibility, we met two amazing Wish Granters, Melissa Warren and Pat Revzin. Jillian decided that her wish would be to go to Walt Disney World® to see all the princesses. The Wish Granters surprised Jillian and revealed that her wish would be coming true by throwing a magical pool party, complete with balloons, cake, and princesses! From the food, guests, music, and a large sign saying “Jillian’s Wish,” it couldn’t have been a better day for my little girl.
So just weeks after her cancer-free celebration and 4 months since her life turned upside down, on October 3rd, our family enjoyed a carefree limo ride to the airport. When we landed in Florida, incredible volunteers greeted us who took care of everything. They drove us to Give Kids the World, where we received our very own villa stocked with everything you could imagine. Give Kids the World features ice cream—day or night – block parties, and even special appearances from the Disney characters themselves. Give Kids the World is a special place built to house ill children while visiting Florida. Bright and healing, it’s almost like a small amusement park with food, shows, and even a “Candy Land” inspired park. Once we arrived at Disney, it was unbelievable to see Jillian light up and forget about cancer and all she had been through. She was full of life again and I could finally see the little girl I’ve always known come back to me – full energy and all, ready to explore and ride the rides with her sister like a normal kid. The entire Wish Experience was a perfect break from the madness and chaos of treatment and was exactly what our family needed.
My Jillian is now seven years old and just completed the first grade in the honor roll, enjoying life as a “normal” girl—a life she always deserved. Though she continues her periodic doctor visits, scans, and bloodwork for the next year and a half, she always comes out on top. I still look at her and see a true miracle. I can’t wait to see her grow into something special. It’s amazing looking back and seeing all she overcame. The videos, pictures, journal entries, newscasts, posts, etc. will always be there to look back with a happy cry because I know all my daughter is capable of achieving. She is the epitome of a fighter.
This Father’s Day, I truly want to thank Make-A-Wish and all of its volunteers, donors, employees, and support staff. They do so much for so many and I am forever grateful. I will do my best to support, follow, and contribute to Make-A-Wish because I believe in The Power of a Wish. A Wish does more than put a smile on faces, it adds life and hope to all the fighters and families.