Make-A-Wish for me became a reality when I was approached by the Kansas chapter to make a wish come true for Ryan, a 16-year-old boy who was battling cancer and whose mom had postponed her wedding to take care of him.
After successfully going through treatment and starting to grow his hair back, Make-A-Wish reached out to my team to grant Ryan's wish of giving his mom her dream wedding, which ultimately ended up being on my show, My Fair Wedding.
A Bigger Mission Than Ever
A couple things I found interesting were that Make-A-Wish had changed its stipulation when it came to deciding which wishes would be granted; this was not just about terminally ill children but also children who are ill or have suffered through the challenges of getting better and were in remission, such as Ryan.
The mission of Make-A-Wish is to make wishes come true and provide hope, a focus on moving forward in life, getting past hurdles and really getting to enjoy being a child. My experience with Make-A-Wish Kansas was truly enlightening. Seeing the incredible amount of volunteers from all the surrounding cities who came in droves to help my team and Ryan create this dream wedding was phenomenal and a reminder of the humanity of strangers that still exists.
Wishes Make Every Second Count
After this first wonderful collaboration, I always wanted to get more involved with Make-A-Wish and recently had the opportunity to grant another wish on a completely different level for two teens, Leslie and Daniel. Leslie unfortunately doesn't have the continued story of her wish that Ryan does ... she lost her life to a very rare form of leukemia that rapidly took her life. She was diagnosed with several months to live, which was then shortened to just weeks.
When I was approached by Make-A-Wish to give Leslie and her high school sweetheart, Daniel, their dream wedding before it was too late, there wasn't even a moment to consider if/when/how to do this. The bottom line was that we were going to make it happen. Vendors quickly responded as they did in Kansas with an outpour of hope and kindness that allowed us to give this couple every last detail they could have wanted.
Tragically, Leslie's body deteriorated significantly in the short time from when I met her (just a week before the wedding) to her wedding day and she suffered a great deal of pain at the wedding. She was unable to stand and barely able to move, but she did get to experience her dream coming true. My goal for Leslie was to give her not just a dream wedding, but to make her feel involved in the wedding planning process just like any other bride would want to be, in the hopes of putting her somewhat at ease with the focus not being completely on her medication, her pain and her limited time.
One thing I'll take to heart having had such an amazing experience with the Orange County and Inland Empire chapter of Make-A-Wish, is how fast a group of people can move when they really want to do something. There seem to be no barriers in place and people just make it work; myself, my staff, every vendor, everyone who is part of Make-A-Wish did that.
Leslie taught me a valuable lesson the night of her wedding. She was sitting at her head table when she turned to me and said, "I know that I'm dying ... I've been told by my doctors that I don't have much time to live, but I have faith that I'm living."
I'm not sure what she meant by that, but I think her message was that it's more about the moment than it is about the length of time one has. As a very mature 18 year old, she knew her time was limited but that every minute counted. That was definitely an eye-opening moment for me to learn that from someone so young and who knew they didn't have much time on Earth left.
Find Your Way to Help
Make-A-Wish is a spectacular organization and one that I want to continue to work with, granting wishes to make children happy; I truly cannot think of something more rewarding than that. I encourage everyone reading this to reach out to a chapter near you to see what you can do – whether it's simply setting something up or donating time or money, anything you do will bring a child that much closer to one true wish – give them a call.