You don’t often hear of someone’s battle with cancer described as “A Journey to Joy”, especially when that battle is being fought by a child, but that is the transforming power of Make-A-Wish Montana. When her family first heard about Make-a-Wish Montana, Makenna was at the peak of her battle with Leukemia. As she journeyed through treatment, that struggle was transformed from one of fear and pain to one of hope and finally to one of pure joy as she planned and then lived her wish to become a princess.
Makenna is an extraordinary 7-year-old girl. She loves bright pink, hot dogs, Sour Patch Kids, horses- and princesses. She is creative and imaginative and loves all types of arts and crafts. When we first met Makenna, she appeared quiet and shy. Bright smiles and laughter were limited, although we did glimpse the sparkle behind her eyes when we brought out the Costco hot dogs, her favorite food! We learned that Makenna dreamed of being a princess. Her once beautiful, waist length dark hair was now gone as a result of chemotherapy, and she dreamed of being Rapunzel with flowing, silken hair, riding a beautiful white horse.
As Makenna’s wish developed, we saw her grow stronger in both body and spirit. Her first wish enhancement allowed her to rediscover that artistic spirit within as she and her friends painted, glazed, and fired various porcelain figures, compliments of the Stumptown Art Studio in Whitefish, Montana. Makenna chose a horse, of course, painting it her favorite color of pink!
Makenna’s wish was revealed to her at the end of October with a surprise visit to her home by her 3 wish granters, appearing with gifts, balloons, and chocolate Mickey Mouse cupcakes donated by our local Ceres Bakery. Her smile grew brighter as she donned her Minnie Mouse ears, unwrapped a new art project, and dug into her chocolate cupcake. With 68 days before her wish to go to Disneyworld and meet Rapunzel began, her countdown chain was as long as Rapunzel’s golden hair!
Ringing the bell to signal the end of Chemotherapy is a momentous occasion for a child and family. Makenna rang that bell at the end of November, and we all rejoiced with her. Her fairy godmothers delivered a box of craft supplies and her Disneyworld guide books. It was time to look forward to the Magic of Make-a-Wish! Christmas was marked with the delivery of Disney Stockings filled with Disney and Rapunzel goodies. Makenna’s might continued to increase as her wish grew closer.
At last, January arrived and Makenna and her family were sent off in Make-a-Wish style with a Princess Bowling and Pizza Party, compliments of The Pin and Cue and the Pierce family. Makenna and her friends bowled and feasted while earning a crown, cape, and wand with each game completed. You could see Makenna’s joy increase as she danced around in crown and cape flinging the bright pink bowling ball down the alley. The girls feasted on “the best chocolate cake ever!”, again donated by Ceres Bakery.
Makenna, her parents, Nicole and Chris, and her 5-year-old sister, Kiara, spent a wonderful week in the two most magical places on earth – Give Kids the World Resort (GKTW) and Disneyworld. They did not waste a moment’s time, visiting The Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, LEGOLAND, Sea World, and Hollywood Studios while also taking advantage of the many activities offered at GKTW. Makenna lived her dream every day of this fairy-tale week, dressing in crown, cape, and princess dress and seeking out new adventures with enthusiasm. Her wish came true when she was able to meet 12 Disney princesses – including her favorites, Rapunzel and Ariel. When asked why she liked Rapunzel, Makenna exclaimed, “Because she has long hair and I want my long hair back!” Besides Disney royalty, Makenna also met many of the Disney characters, exclaiming, “Mickey Mouse kissed me on the hand!”
While meeting Rapunzel was a dream come true, the re-awakening of Makenna’s adventurous spirit was evident as she enthusiastically described the many rollercoasters and rides that she experienced throughout the week, clearly proud of her ability to hold her hands above her head while speeding down the looping tracks. Her favorite rides were the Peter Pan ride in Fantasy Land and the Killer Whale Rollercoaster in Sea World. “The Peter Pan ride is like you’re flying for real! We even saw Wendy! We rode that one 4 times.” Makena explained.
The highlight of the trip, however, was not found in the magical pixie dust of Disneyworld but in the “amazing community” at Give Kids the World Resort. During her 5 days at GKTW, Makenna was able to ride in a horse drawn carriage (just like a real princess!), swim in a warm pool in January (a real treat for a Montana girl!), go around and around on a carousel unicorn, fly on a butterfly, and see her own shining star placed among the thousands of other bright stars on the ceiling of the Castle of Miracles. She ate ice cream for breakfast – with cherries and whipped cream – not just once but 3 times! And best of all, “I rode on a horse in my Rapunzel dress. The horse was white and brown, and I got on all by myself!” This fulfilled her wish to truly become like Rapunzel!
Both Makenna and her family agreed that the funniest moment of the week came when the girls were tucked into bed by GKTW’s Mayor Clayton. Instead of neatly tucking them into bed, he stripped off all of the bedding and then tried to fold it all around them. Makenna’s mother stated that they were amazed by and grateful for all of the wonderful people who surrounded them during the week – from the mother and daughter who greeted them at the airport and provided them with many helpful Disneyworld tips to the hundreds of volunteers who cared for them at GKTW. Another exceptional part of this incredible week was meeting and talking with new friends – children just like Makenna who were also fighting extraordinary battles. Children who, through the magic of Make-a-Wish, were able to put past treatments and struggles behind them and rediscover the joy of just being a child.
As I sat with Makenna and her family listening to the many stories that made up her Wish week over a meal of – you guessed it – hot dogs and strawberry milkshakes, I was truly amazed by the transformation that had taken place in this one incredible child. Her words were filled with strength, joy, excitement, and pride. She had once again found her love of life and would now carry on as Makenna the Mighty!
THANK YOU, MAKE-A-WISH MONTANA!