They brought me in for allergy tests. Nothing. They brought me in to doctors appointments, leading to more tests, and eventually they found the tumor. They told us to schedule emergency surgery. I can only imagine what that news must have felt like to my parents. But if you ask me what I remember, it was the night sky full of city lights on our drive to the UIC Hospital in Chicago. The city looked dazzling and so alive. And I was so lucky to get to explore it solo with my parents, no siblings allowed this time! Again, the perspective of a child. I truly can't fathom the anxiety and fear that drive must have been like for my parents. They never let it on; they were so brave for me.
They explained my tumor to me as "a little ball stuck in my head". It sounded odd, but the medical staff and my family and friends were so calm and cool, I wasn't concerned. The last memory I remember before brain surgery is being wheeled down with my precious "baby" stuffed animal at my feet, accompanying me for comfort.
My parents share that when I awoke from surgery, I didn't recognize them, and was full of panic. I feel blessed that I don't share this memory, because how horrifying must it have been for my family! Instead, what I remember was the countless visits from friends and family, everyone bringing me gifts and hugs. I felt so special. I remember the cool kids room down the hall, where other patients in the ICU with me would watch James and The Giant Peach and get to hangout with hospital staff- no parents allowed. Looking back, I bet I was hanging out with the hospital social worker and how things come full circle, as I work as a social worker today.
My stay at the hospital felt like a billion years, and when it was time to go home, I looked forward to seeing my friends and my kindergarten classmates. They had shaved half my head during surgery, so I wore a large bandage over the back of my skull. While few things upset me during my hospital stay, my friends' reactions when I came back home did. Some of them were scared of me for looking different with a shaved head. Some of them questioned why I was missing from school. Others tiptoed around me. And the WORST- at Chuck-E-Cheese with my family, I couldn't even ride the rides!!
I remember one day talking with my parents in the car- them asking me if I could have a magic wish, what it would be. It seemed absurd, but they told me it was true. Soon after, I met Julie and Peggy from Make a Wish- and they made my dream come true to swim with dolphins. They were the most lovely people. They too made me feel so special and full of warmth. They were like my own personal fairy godmothers. They worked with my family and sent us all to Key West on a vacation where my dad and I got to swim with dolphins. Hence, my team name "Dolphins". Such a special experience after a long, long journey.
In a matter of months, I will be going on my 20th year tumor free, full of health and love. And it is my turn to give back to an organization that gave my family and I hope during a dark time. To an organization that kept my skies bright and understood me when others did not. To an organization that quite literally makes dreams come true. I am so proud to be a part of this wish family. And I am thankful for the opportunity to pay it forward. With the past year that we all just experienced, it's given a whole new perspective to gratitude for health. It is pulling on my heart strings to help support those who ON TOP of a year of covid, have been enduring other life-threatening illnesses.
Please join me in doing this. Feel free to donate to my team if you can, share my story to others to spread awareness of this incredible organization, or join me on my walk October 17th. The more the merrier, truly! I would love to walk along each of you, as many have walked alongside me in my journey. Thank you!