I shivered as I lay on the cold table in the CT room and stared at the ceiling tiles, or rather the artistic display which masked them: white clouds contrasting the vast, blue sky. The view was serene and peaceful, and these two emotions filled my heart despite the circumstances of my reality. Just two days prior I had received lab results that hinted at trouble within my body, along within a precarious, and impressively large bump on the left side of my neck. So my doctor had sent me downtown to get a CT scan in order to rule out the worst-case scenario. I could practically feel the anxious energy of my mother and grandma radiating (no pun intended) all the way down the hallway from the waiting room to the CT room where I was being tested. The scan was taking longer than expected and when I was finally told that the scan was over and that I could sit up, the face that met me hardly held relief. Hospital policy may have prevented her from communicating the news of my scans through words, but the look in the radiologist’s eyes told me what I had known already deep down. Something wasn’t quite right. With this knowledge in mind, I looked up one last time at the scene on the ceiling. I imagined myself among those clouds, up so high that all worldly matters seemed small, free falling my troubles away. With a long, tedious journey ahead, I would frequently think back to my scene up in the clouds and deep inside of my soul, where no tumor could touch, I would know that everything was going to be okay.
This is where my journey began. My admittance and diagnosis to the hospital were a bit of a whirlwind. I remember lots of faces but not many names from that night as I was poked, prodded, and tested for hours. As friends and family came and went from my teeny hospital room in the ER and then eventually to my room on the third floor: oncology level.
Three daunting days, that felt more like decades, and one biopsy later, I was eventually diagnosed with Stage 2A Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. That day, I met the brilliant woman who would be my oncologist throughout my treatments. After the grave delivery of the news, she gave a bright smile and announced that she had some good news as well. Because of my diagnosis, I was going to eventually be able to receive a wish from Make-A-Wish! My heart skipped a beat at the news. Immediately, my mind raced with ideas. I’m not the most decisive person in the world, so I knew that making up my mind was going to be hard. Luckily, I would have some time to ponder on it as my treatments were extremely intensive and there would be no talk of traveling for a wish until I was well out of chemo, so that meant I had 4 rounds of chemotherapy and then an unexpected 14 cycles of radiation to think, plan, and dream.
All throughout my treatments, dreaming of what my wish could be, gave me a goal, and a physical marker in time to reach for. It was the silver lining on the horizon, my secret place up in the clouds, my hope for a future. And it was an exciting possibility for my family as well!
I’d like you to meet my family!
Leslie aka “Mom”
My mom is an elementary school counselor…by every definition of the title. Outgoing, bubbly, creative, goofy, and fun. She is truly in her element when surrounded by a group of children, who inevitably love and adore her. She is also extremely emotional. Now, I would feel hypocritical if I failed to mention that I too will shed a few tears during a Nicholas Sparks novel, and I can barely think about the end of Old Yeller without reaching for a box of tissues, but when it came to being sick I was rather analytical. I wanted to face my illness head on and take as minimal amount of time feeling sorry for myself as was possible. I wanted to be strong and I needed her to be too. Which is why on our way home from the CT scan, when my doctor called us after hours and asked us to come in to see him, I gave my mom a pep talk. “Three cries,” I said. “You are allowed three instances in which you are allowed to break down and cry. And I want you to promise me that aside from those we are going to be strong.”
And she held true to this promise. At least when I was around. My mom was my rock in all that we went through. She was the one sleeping on the less-than-comfortable hospital couch beside me, the one holding back my hair when I was getting sick in the middle if the night, the one who was always there pushing me to finish those piles of assignments I had waiting for me on my bedside table, right next to the Pepcid and the Tylenol. I believe that although I was the one enduring the treatments and the symptoms, my mom felt the metal and physical exhaustion of every day, all while holding the equally exhausting job of the elementary school counselor.
That poor lady could really use a trip to the beach…
Fast forward to my mom today, the wish trip experience: “I am overcome with excitement to able to share this experience with my family. To me, it’s all about the togetherness. With our family being very close and yet all of us having busy schedules and Abby being in the hospital…it was very hard not being able to see one another or to be constantly saying passing hellos on the way in and out of the house or the hospital room. I’m overcome with joy to just have down time to enjoy and love on my family.”
Scott aka “Dad”
My dad is the golf pro at the local course and the coach of the golf team at our local high school. He is funny, and care-free and also my hero. Growing up I truly believed that my dad was fearless. I loved hearing stories of all of the insane things he did as a kid, from jumping out of the 2-story schoolhouse window as a kindergartener, to racing professional motocross as a teenager…the list goes on and on. Trust me, he was crazy! And I always admired him for it. In my eyes, he was the bravest man in the whole wide world, quick to make family vacations or a trip to the park into an exciting, somewhat dangerous adventure, to my mother’s dismay! Needless to say, it’s no wonder where I got my stubborn-will and fierce spirit. The apple doesn’t fall far…
It wasn’t until the day that we got the news that I would be battling cancer, that I realized, even my dad, the strongest man I knew, had his own form of kryptonite. It was his little girl. It was hard to see him struggle with the news and see his spark fade a little as we came to accept our new reality. He began battling what we can only describe as anxiety attacks, hardly ever sleeping as he experienced severe chest pains during the night. As I struggled through some of the toughest nights of my life, he literally felt my pain.
As I am now out of treatments and recovering well, my dad also continues to heal. Cancer has left scars on us all, but it’s the hard times that make the good ones so sweet. He is still the bravest man I will ever meet and he I still my hero.
A trip away with the family is exactly what he needs to let loose and have some fun! Am I thinking somewhere…tropical?
My dad’s thoughts on the wish trip: “I am so excited that we get to go on this trip with Abby. It really is a dream come true and we wouldn’t be able to go if it weren’t for Make-A-Wish. We are so grateful to all of the people involved in giving us the opportunity of a lifetime. Thank you Make-A-Wish!”
Austin aka “lil bro”
My brother and I are two years apart. Based on our personalities (and height) one might guess that he was two years my senior rather than the other way around. Sensible, studious, and responsible, Austin is many things that I am not. And it is because of that, I feel that we balance each other out in such a perfect way. I bring out the goofy side in him and remind him that not everything in life is “black and white”, and he tells me when I’m being irrational, unrealistic, or unreasonable, which is probably about 95% of the time. I’m not afraid to admit it, I look up to my little brother (both figuratively and literally).
When I got sick, Austin handled it much like he would handle any other situation: rationally and with a very small amount of emotion. I knew better than to be offended by this sort of reaction. He was still my brother after all and cancer couldn’t change that. In all honesty, his lack of extreme affection was refreshing to me. Where many of my friends and sometimes even family treated me as if I were fragile and needed constant care, Austin treated me just the same as he had our whole lives. I still had a little brother to make fun of me and argue with me as if nothing had changed. Although don’t be fooled, somewhere in there he really does have a big, fat, loving heart. That much was revealed when he told me that he would shave his head to match my own shining glory after I had lost all my hair to chemotherapy. I of course emphatically declined because I love his blonde locks too much to see them go, but it was the thought that counts and his offer brought tears to my eyes. On more than one occasion I was shown how much my, seemingly emotionless brother, really does love me and how lucky I am to have a sibling like him. Be it putting up with the constant stream of questions about how I was doing, never saying a word about the absence of a cheering family at his basketball games or when his 15th birthday passed without much of a celebration, or even the time that he willingly sat at a salon with one of my wigs on his head to have it styled (see priceless picture below).
All in all, my brother has always been and hopefully always will be one of my very best friends. As I move away to college this fall I will miss him dearly, but I am beyond excited to have been “granted” the chance to spend a week together playing in a tropical paradise just like we are two little kids again.
Austin on the wish trip: “This is so cool.”
Like I said…A man of few words but he is excited and appreciative as well!!
When it came time to meet with the volunteers and decide what my wish would be, the choice was obvious to me. I wished for a trip that would give my whole family a time of rest and relaxation, a trip with crashing waves and warm sandy beaches, a strength-building, hope-instilling trip that would provide the time we needed to reconnect with one another and just simply be a family. In my wildest dreams, I had never imagined what would come next…and here our Family Aloha Adventure begins!