When Joel was just 16 years old, he was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. As a boy, Joel endured more than many adults can say they have. He underwent a high-risk surgery to remove his tumor at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich. He also needed extensive amounts of chemotherapy and radiation.
I was 13 at the time, probably out there doing typical teenager things that Joel wasn’t always able to do. I remember the first serious conversation I had with Joel about his cancer journey. It was then that he told me about his wish to have a man cave. It sounds like a typical “boy wish,” but as Joel opened up to me about it, he admitted he chose a man cave because he really wanted to help his parents finish their basement. His eyes watered as he told me about how his Make-A-Wish® experience provided his family with hope and happiness when they needed it most.
And although Joel’s wish was granted more than 10 years ago, he still has close relationships with his wish granters and the Make-A-Wish staff who played a role in helping his dream basement become a reality. He considers his wish one of the biggest blessings during his cancer treatment.
Joel, during his cancer treatment, with Yolanda, a tech who signed Joel into his clinical visits.
Fast-forward 13 years later. Joel is healthy, cancer-free and working as a child life specialist at Mott.
He is also my fiancé.
Joel had caught my eye around Mott, as I work in fundraising there, but we never shared much more than small talk. Then in March 2016, I received an e-newsletter from Make-A-Wish Michigan. I opened it to find a photo of Joel standing in Mott as I read his story about his cancer survival and his wish to have a man cave. My jaw about hit my desk.
You see, Make-A-Wish has been a huge influence in my life. After I watched Make-A-Wish grant my childhood friend Myles’ wish when we were kids, I immediately knew I wanted to be a part of this organization. I went on to intern at a local chapter, working in social media and public relations. I founded West Virginia University’s Wishmakers on Campus student organization. I also landed an internship with Make-A-Wish America, which I still cherish as one of the best experiences of my life. After college, I took on a temporary role at Make-A-Wish Michigan. And from there, I accepted a position in fundraising at Mott.
I couldn’t believe that Joel was a wish kid. I felt so close to him already. I didn’t hesitate and found him on Facebook. I sent him a message and we instantly connected about our passion for Make-A-Wish. After some back-and-forth, we decided to go on our first date. We’re getting married on May 26, 2018.
Falling in love with Joel has been the best journey of my life. Every day I am more inspired by the man he is. His experience with cancer and Make-A-Wish reminds me what it means to live with a grateful heart and to love others unconditionally. If you were to ask me my favorite trait about Joel, it’d be hard to choose, but I’d probably pick his willingness to give – a trait he credits to his wish experience.
Although Joel and I have experienced the power of a wish from different perspectives, we’ve both learned the same thing: to give sincerely with no expectation of anything in return. It’s a value we’ve made a part of our relationship and one we hope to hold onto for the rest of our lives.
Today, Joel and I volunteer as a couple with Make-A-Wish. We also serve on the Make-A-Wish Michigan Emerging Young Leaders Council and have even chosen Make-A-Wish as a beneficiary for our wedding registry.
In the year ahead, a child will be diagnosed with a critical illness every 20 minutes. And with each diagnosis, that child feels uncertain about his or her future. We believe that wishes improve the odds for wish kids fighting critical illnesses, and the majority of wish kids do go on to beat their illnesses and live typical, healthy lives.
My fiancé credits so much of his success today to his wish experience 13 years ago. You can give today’s children with critical illnesses powerful wish experiences that arm them with a positive emotional outlook that cannot be undervalued. Together, we can bring these children the hope and strength they need to fight for the future.
It is Make-A-Wish’s mission to grant the wish of every eligible child. But with the cost of a wish averaging $10,000, the need for generosity is great. Can we count on you to help? DONATE TO MAKE-A-WISH
Show us some love this week by posting your favorite Make-A-Wish memories to Facebook or Instagram using #HugsAndWishes.
Did you know that this week is Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Week? A child with a congenital heart defect may be eligible for a wish. REFER A CHILD TODAY