In 1998, my Juvenile Dermatomyositis (JDMS) flared up. My muscles were weak, and I was missing a lot of school due to doctor's appointments and just not feeling well enough to be around my friends (which is very unlike me). I remember sitting in a check-up room at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, deciding I was "over it" when it came to being cooperative with the countless doctors and nurses asking me questions and trying to help me. A new doctor came in and mentioned that I would be eligible for a Make-A-Wish, and I panicked believing that all recipients of wishes were terminally ill. I was quickly reassured that wasn't the case, and felt a resurgence of hope within my 10-year-old self.
Through Make-A-Wish, my parents, sisters and I visited Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Arizona - where I fulfilled my wish to compete in a real-life rodeo. My sisters and I were fans of the Nickelodeon television show "Hey Dude," and I was excited to visit Tanque Verde Ranch specifically, as several scenes of that show were filmed there. It was a dream to be assigned a horse of my own for the week. Going on trail rides, learning how to barrel race: I was just like an official cowgirl. Not to mention that as part of my wish, I received a red cowgirl hat, red cowgirl boots, and an authentic American-themed rodeo shirt. Talk about an outfit!
That vacation was one of the most memorable trips for all of my family, and one of the things that made it so special was knowing all the people that cared enough to help make it a reality. That trip wasn't just a break for me, but one for my parents and sisters who were going through this experience, too.
Twenty years later and I now work at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida - a popular place for Make-A-Wish trips. I've had several interactions with families that are here during a wish, asking for advice as they plan their visit to Magic Kingdom Park or wondering about the best spot to watch the fireworks. On appropriate occasions, I've shared that I am a wish alum, and I can see the surprise and hope that appear on the family's faces when I reveal this fact. Since learning that not all wish kids are battling terminal illness, I celebrate any opportunity to share that with others who may be under the same misconception. I always offer to take a family photo for them, knowing they will look back on the pictures from this trip in twenty years, just like my family does. Hopefully they don't laugh at their vacation fashion choices as much as my sisters and I do over ours! I'm truly grateful for my experience and for Make-A-Wish's ability to instill hope in the midst of the darkest times.