Former wish child and cancer survivor Yali was determined not to let illness define her. Instead, she has become a champion of cancer survivorship, with the mission of “carrying on in the face of illness.”
23-year-old Yali embodies this mission in her everyday life, especially in the creation and production of her handbag line. Yali’s Carry On™, inspired by her experience as a cancer patient, is the result of Yali’s journey that began with Make-A-Wish®
Growing up in Highland Park, Yali was 4 years old when she was first diagnosed with leukemia and referred to Make-A-Wish. Because of her improving condition, her family declined the wish. However, Yali relapsed at age 10 and was granted another opportunity to have her wish granted. The inspiration for Yali’s wish came from her year-long treatment in isolation after receiving a bone marrow transplant from her brother. One of her coping mechanisms was using creative design. Yali took bandannas from chemotherapy and used them to make one-of-a-kind handbags for her medical team. Her talent for design inspired her wish to create a handbag with fashion designer Kate Spade and give all proceeds from the bag back to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The excitement and preparation for the wish gave Yali something to work on and look forward to despite her medical isolation.
“When I was looking for a source of hope and distraction during my treatment, putting things together for my wish made me hopeful for the time period after my treatment,” Yali says. “The possibilities seemed endless.”
Yali was 16 when she saw her wish come to life, which she describes as “the epitome of coolness.” Leading up to a rainy opening day at the Kate Spade studio in New York, she worked with the designer on the bag concept, and learned from Kate about the design world, production, teamwork, and tips for creating her own company. The bag Yali and Kate designed together was unique to Yali’s experience as a cancer patient, featuring a bandanna-inspired paisley design that recalled the handbags made in treatment.
Celebrating her wish with a debut party at the Kate Spade Chicago boutique, the store was packed front to back with friends, family and well-wishers. Maggie Daley, then the First Lady of Chicago also came out to celebrate Yali's wish. The first shipment of bags sold out on the opening day, and the entire stock sold out in two weeks. Half of all of the proceeds from the sale of Yali's design with Kate Spade were donated to Make-A-Wish.
Following her Make-A-Wish experience, Yali took all of the tips she learned from Kate Spade and established her own handbag line, Yali’s Carry On™, which draws upon her own “medical baggage.” Yali donated all proceeds from her latest design, amounting to more than $200,000, to the Child and Family Services department at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, the same services that helped her so much throughout her own treatment.
“My Make-A-Wish journey put a very positive spin on being a survivor and a champion of my disease,” Yali says. My wish experience contributed to a lot of the success in my life, as a philanthropist, a businesswoman, and I was featured by Glamour Magazine as one of the top 10 collegiate women in 2012. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Make-A-Wish.”
And where is Yali today? Fully recovered, she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and now works as a registered nurse on the same oncology floor of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
where she was treated as a child. Her Make-A-Wish journey, experience with illness, and her dedicated medical team that treated her as a child inspired her to become a nurse.
Yali also runs a creative arts workshop for patients and volunteers with the hospital’s K.I.D.S.S. for Kids, Inc. program that raises funds for the hospital’s Family Support Services programs. The proceeds from her latest bag have gone to the K.I.D.S.S. for Kids program. Yali currently lives in downtown Chicago and continues to design bags and expand her line.