There are things in our lives which we will forever use to mark time. We think of significant moments in our lives and reminisce about them as if they were yesterday, the memories still vivid. Time stands still in these moments, which we have deemed so important as to commit them to memory in a way that we can step inside and be in that moment and live there, until we realize it was 20 years ago. I have many of these markers in my life, such as my first fun photo booth hire, scoring a game winning goal in triple overtime, placing the shot in the tiniest space above the goalie’s shoulder and the puck just touching the crossbar as it went in, or the moment my parents crystal glasses were broken while playing in the kitchen, I was playing goalie and couldn’t stop the ball which went through the open doorway, off the wall, and off the glasses. We covered that up with a lie for many years. Or the moment Robyn and I sat in a hospital room at the IWK, the doctor comes in and asks if we would like to speak outside, us saying no, and them dropping an earthquake in our laps with the news that Isla had leukemia. These are moments that I will remember forever, and just a few of the hundreds I could probably come up with. Well we got a new one last week as Isla’s Wish to go to Disney World came to fruition. I think there will be dozens of specific memories eternally etched into my mind, though right now it is that moment when we decided to do one last ride at the park, the moment Robyn said “This is your last ride” to Isla as we went to the Peter Pan ride. I was holding back tears thinking about the wish trip coming to a close, but let me step back a bit.
You are all surely aware of Isla’s story right now. If you are not, the context can be found HERE. It’s not a short read, but that’s because it isn’t a short story. To make a long story extremely short; Isla spent 6.5 months in hospital after begin diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia on October 27th 2017, getting our of hospital on May 9th, 2018. She had a rough treatment with many complications, but is currently doing well, just working on a fungal infection which we are hoping is going to be gone at her MRI in February.
Isla has always been a special little girl, she is so smart and observant, and is so willing to go strike up a conversation with just about anyone, telling them something like “I like your sweater”, or “Hi, I’m Isla, want to play?”. Like any kid, she has her moments, but she is kind, and she is predominantly happy. So when she was sick and not feeling well, it was really hard to see when she wasn’t happy, or hated going to the playroom at the hospital because other kids had hair. Thankfully there are so many people at the IWK who made sure to do anything to make her happy and to feel special. She was the centre of attention and the world revolved around her, our bright little ray of sunshine, shining brightly through her own darkest night. She was too young to understand that fight going on inside her was one that was possible to lose, and I am so grateful for that. With no reason to doubt, the option of her not getting better wasn’t on the table for her.
As parents, we obviously knew more than she did, and we were the ones burdened with the worry, with the stress, with foresight. So when Isla was only a bit into treatment and someone asked me about if I had thought about her Wish, I certainly had not. I am the kind of person who watches my Pittsburgh Penguins up by 2 goals with 15 seconds left to win the Stanley Cup and won’t celebrate for fear of jinxing it. I was not going to start thinking about her Children’s Wish. As time passed, the idea of a wish only entered my mind when I heard about another child getting one.
Eventually, Isla was given the all clear and allowed to come home, and we started to think about her Wish. We learned that kids with cancer were pretty much guaranteed to be granted one and we decided to go with Children’s Wish because they are Canadian, and they have Isla’s favourite Oncologist on their board. It seemed like the right fit, and we couldn’t have made a better decision. We went into their office to meet Jake, our wish coordinator, and Isla loved him straight away, and the staff all came into the board room to meet us and are all just so incredible. We felt like part of the family. Or maybe it would be better to say we feel like part of the family, as I am sure we will be linked to Children’s Wish for the rest of our lives. Isla got her own Roary, a stuffed lion that only Wish kids get, and we got some information about her Wish. We were told we had 5 years to make that wish, but we knew Isla to go to Disney World, and we knew we wanted to do it sooner rather than later. If Isla’s leukemia comes back and we hadn’t taken her trip, I would forever regret that she didn’t get that experience. To make it a better trip, we probably would want the girls to be a few years older, but they are still young enough that they get to experience Disney in a way that a child should, with the belief that everything is real. With all that in mind, we got the wheels in motion right away and booked a trip from December 1st to 8th 2018.
Isla was looking forward to this trip for months, and when December 1st came around, she was ready to go, and so was Autumn. The way it works for Wish kids is that you get 7 nights in Florida, and you stay at a place called Give Kids the World Village (GKTW). GKTW is only for Wish kids and their families, so you know that everyone there is going through, or has gone through some family adversity, and no-one has to feel singled out, or odd, but everyone gets to feel special.
We flew with WestJet, the airline I worked with when Isla got sick, where I still have friends, and so many people I miss working with. They were so kind and they upgraded us to Plus seating for our flight to Orlando. The flight attendants were great and so kind to the girls. I wish I could remember the name of the guy working on that flight (the 14:15 to MCO on December 1st for any of my WestJet friends) so I could make sure to properly thank him. We arrived to a warm Orlando and a volunteer from GKTW holding a sign with Isla’s name. He helped us get our luggage and rental van sorted out, and he was super friendly. When we got to National, the van wasn’t showing up in their system, so they had to get it sorted out, but it took about as long to do that as it took to install the car seats, which they allowed us to do without the reservation in the system yet.
We arrived after dark to Give Kids the World Village (GKTW), our resort for the week. GKTW is a place exclusively for Wish kids and their families. It’s designed to be inclusive and for all the kids to feel special in a good way, to let them live their dreams. There is an ice cream place which opens before the cafeteria, and like everything there, it’s free. They have a carousel, movie theatre, the world’s largest Candyland game, a huge playground, rides, a train. It’s pretty much as cool as it can get for kids. They have character visits daily, they celebrate Halloween and Christmas every week. Yeah, Give Kids the World is a great place for the kids.
Our first morning, we walked towards breakfast and found ourselves sitting on the carousel for a couple of spins before breakfast, only to emerge from breakfast to find the carousel broken, and it wouldn’t be repaired during our stay.