In June of 2016, I was diagnosed with blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm, (BPDCN), one of the rarest and most aggressive forms of leukemia in the world. Originally known as the “natural killer” by oncologists all over the world, you can already tell that my chances of survival were very slim. Hearing the words “your child has cancer” is probably the worst thing a parent could ever hear but Make-A-Wish was there to brighten up our day. Being only an elementary school student at the time of my diagnosis, I look back at that day and am extremely grateful that the Make-A-Wish representatives took time out of their day to be there with my family. Knowing that I could wish for anything I wanted, helped take my mind off everything that was happening around me.
Throughout my treatment, I underwent many rounds of localized radiation, full-body radiation, and chemotherapy. I went from a very active, 12-year-old gymnast, to not eating for weeks on end. I missed going outside to smell the flowers, to play with my brother, to go on hikes with my family. I wanted more than anything to go outside and enjoy nature and its beauty. The closest I got to that was being wheeled out into the lobby every night to watch the sunset behind the hills. After being released from the hospital almost 2 years after my diagnosis, I learned to appreciate the world around me so much more.
I was treated at the City of Hope and was under the care of so many wonderful doctors and nurses. My clinical trial doctor had lived in South Africa as a kid and is who inspired me to go see the beautiful country for my wish trip. I wanted to choose something I knew both I and the rest of my family would enjoy and thought that the beaches, the stunning scenery, and the safaris would be an awesome choice.
After telling Make-A-Wish Los Angeles about my wish, I was surprised with a big reveal at the Macy’s in Burbank. I got to shimmy with traditional South African dancers and received a $1,500 check to shop at Macy’s thanks to their Believe campaign.
Going on this trip was such an amazing experience! My favorite memory was going on the safari and being able to see elephants, which are my favorite animal. Seeing the elephants in the wild was an experience not many people get to have. I also loved that I had the opportunity to meet new people from all over the world and try new foods such as warthog, lime-colored crème soda, and termites!
Being a child with cancer, Make-A-Wish allowed me to take my mind off the various difficulties I went through during treatment and it gave me a sense of normalcy. It also brought my parents a lot of joy, happiness and hope, seeing me have the time of my life during my wish.
I can’t thank Make-A-Wish enough for allowing kids like me to be able to take our minds off cancer.
By Wish Kid Caitlin, age 15