"Hold on. You’ll be ok. You can get through this." These are the encouraging words that Hannah Brown has for all the children out there battling cancer. Almost five years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting this vivacious little girl while fundraising with Make-A-Wish. She was always brimming with positivity and had a never-ending zest for life. You would never have known that she had been battling cancer for two years.
Yet, despite all of the struggles she had faced, she was beyond excited to help raise money for Make-A-Wish to help kids just like her. She was the definition of hope and joy.
Heather Evans, the Director of Corporate and Community Philanthropy with the North Texas Make-A-Wish Foundation explains, "For a child who has a critical illness, having their wish come true often gives them the courage to continue with their medical treatments. It's more than just a trip. It's an opportunity to overcome those feelings of hopelessness and loneliness," And that's exactly what it did for Hannah.
Hannah's Brave Battle With Cancer
Hannah Brown is a survivor. At the age of five, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and later found out that she had a second tumor in her lung. Both were cancerous. These led to surgeries and harsh chemotherapy and radiation treatments that no child should ever have to endure.
"The entire family battles cancer when a child does. It changes every family member’s life forever. Besides the tremendous anxiety, worry, and grief that goes along with it, families are often physically apart for very long periods of time as the child undergoes treatment," Hannah's mom, Kim Brown, described. This was the case with Hannah. She was being treated six hours away from home, which led to her family living in and out of hospitals and hotel rooms for months.
"It was during her most difficult point in treatment when Hannah found out about her wish. She was fighting a second cancer. She was doing both chemo and radiation, far away from home," Brown explained.
Hannah's Unicorn Dream Come True
Hannah chose to have a bedroom makeover for her wish, with a magical pink and purple unicorn theme. This became the perfect retreat during a period when Hannah was going to have to spend lots of time at home.
"Make-A-Wish had a team working on Hannah’s bedroom makeover while we were away. When Hannah finally got to come home after so long, she came home to her new bedroom. It just meant the world to see her so happy in the middle of it all. The anticipation of seeing her new room also gave her something to look forward to, which was so, so important," Brown shared.
Fast forward to today, and Hannah is now 11 years old and cancer-free, living her life to the fullest.
The Make-A-Wish Impact Goes Deeper Than Just the Wish-Giving
Make-A-Wish is an organization that grants wishes to critically ill children. If a child qualifies for a wish, they have the opportunity to choose from five different categories of wishes: I wish to go, I wish to be, I wish to have, I wish to meet, or I wish to give.
Many people see a wish being granted as a brief moment in time, but for these kids and their families, it is so much more than that. It brings happiness and hope for a better tomorrow.
A wish also gives kids the power to choose. They have no control over their appointments or treatments, but their wishes are completely customizable and they are intimately involved in the planning of their wish. This is not only exciting but also serves as a form of distraction during a very difficult time.
Fairy Godmothers Do Exist
Upon being selected to receive a wish, each child is matched with a wish granter. This is the person who meets with them regularly to plan their wish, but these individuals do so much more behind the scenes.
"Hannah’s wish granter, Linda, also went above and beyond for Hannah. We were living out of a hotel [and the] hospital at Christmas time. She arranged for Santa to go see Hannah in the hospital, and she set up a Christmas tree and presents for Hannah and her little brother in our hotel room. I can’t describe how wonderful that was for the kids and the whole family. We were so grateful," Brown said.
These real-life fairy godmothers are also there when the kids receive their wish. What most people don't realize is that many of these individuals are just volunteers, not employees. This makes their contribution that much more special.
Ways to Help a Child Like Hannah
Making a wish come true is a big undertaking. The organization is always in need of donations and volunteers to help make these meaningful moments for sick kids a reality.
"We are a very lean organization to ensure that as much money as possible is going back to our wish families, so we are always looking for volunteers. We have opportunities for our school-aged children and adults to participate with Make-A-Wish. We have evening galas, we have walks, and we have golf tournaments," Evans explained.
I Was a "Celebrity" Dancer and I'll Never Forget the Experience
They even have opportunities for folks with talents, or a willingness to learn, to volunteer at their events and make a difference in the lives of others. I had the chance to do just that. In 2019, I volunteered to be a "celebrity" dancer for their Waltzing for Wishes fundraiser. This was essentially a version of the Dancing With the Stars competition that you can watch on television.
For months, a group of expert dancers worked with myself and other community leaders to choreograph a number of dances that we performed at their fundraising gala. These choreographed routines featured an array of dance styles, flashy outfits, and semi-acrobatic feats, and they were ranked by a panel of judges.
These performances were followed by the final act — Hannah and her dad dancing in support of families just like theirs. It was at these practices that I got to see a glimpse of Hannah's bubbly personality and joy for life.
This was an amazing experience and a very unique way to give back, but for those who would prefer to avoid the limelight, Make-A-Wish has so many other opportunities to help.
Get Involved by Volunteering or Donating
Volunteering opportunities can be found all across the nation. You can visit the Make-A-Wish website of your local chapter to find out ways that you can help in your area. And for those who are looking to contribute financially, you also have the option to donate to their national fund or you can donate directly to your chapter.
Every penny counts. The average cost of a wish is $15,000 and Make-A-Wish covers everything for a wish family. There is no out-of-pocket expense when it comes to granting a sick child's wish.
No matter which option you choose, the funds are essential for making the wishes of sick kids come true. "We would encourage anyone who has the means to strongly consider donating to Make-A-Wish. It brings light into indescribably dim circumstances. That means more than can be described for these children. It is so needed," Brown stressed.
Helping Families Like Hannah's Every Day
Make-A-Wish strives to be a reset for families like the Browns. These wishes bring hope and they allow families to feel a bit of normalcy in a time where it is anything but that. And more than anything, they bring moments of joy during periods of hopelessness, loneliness, and worry.
You can visit Wish.org to connect with your local chapter, make a Make-A-Wish donation, and learn more about Make-A-Wish volunteer opportunities.