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Common Make-A-Wish Misconceptions

Chad now and then
During my orientation at my first day at Make-A-Wish® Missouri, I was asked what I thought some common misconceptions of the foundation were. The first one I could think of, based on my childhood perception of the organization, was that it was only meant for kids combating cancer. Though a handful of the wish kids have and will battle some form of cancer, there is a long list of illnesses that qualify for wish eligibility. I quickly learned, and am still learning as an intern, that other misconceptions surround Make-A-Wish and its mission.

Since being an intern, people have made comments to me like, “Don’t you cry every single day? It’s so sad granting wishes to terminal children.” Yes, the reality of a child battling a life-threatening medical condition does bring tears to my eyes, but Make-A-Wish brings hope, strength and joy to the children they serve, and creates life-changing experiences that truly make a positive impact. Most wish kids who receive a wish go on to live full, productive lives. Make-A-Wish does not grant “last wishes” as some may believe, Make-A-Wish grants “lasting wishes” that help a child fight their condition, brings families closer together, and provides an opportunity for a kid to be just that…a kid. Even before I started working at Make-A-Wish, I had this fear that I would get emotional on the job or may cry from time to time. Though I have experienced glossy eyes more than once, they can be labeled as “happy tears” or some other way to describe joy that you cannot contain. Like watching this video:

My emotions are contributed to wishes full of creativity, dreaming limitlessly, and priceless reactions, not to this idea of terminal children receiving a wish. I want to emphasize what’s already been said before: “It’s not a last wish, it’s a lasting wish.”

I don’t want to discredit the grief that some families endure after some face the difficult reality of losing a child. With any life-threatening illness, justified fear will always exist. However, most of the wish kids grow up to live happy and fulfilling lives. One of the Make-A-Wish sister chapters, Make-A-Wish Southwestern Ontario, said it well in one of their Facebook posts:

“One of the most common misconceptions we hear is that children have to be terminal to qualify for a wish. Our eligibility criteria stipulate that a child must be diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition, not a terminal condition. Many wish kids go on to lead fulfilling lives after their Make-A-Wish experience. The wish process is a way to honor the difficult journey they’re going through and the courage they’ve shown to face it. It’s a very life-affirming process that enriches the human experience with hope, strength and joy. Our wish children who are now adults would attest to this!”

Meet Chad. Chad was a wish kid who had his wish to go to San Diego with his family granted back in 1988. Now, as an adult, he is a volunteer wish granter and has granted over 20 wishes to wish kids who are just like he was as a child. “I chose to become a Wish Granter because I, myself, was fortunate enough to experience the joy of having a wish granted when I was very young and facing a very tough illness,” said Chad.

Chad says that it’s a trip that he and his family will always remember—his dad still keeps a picture of them from his wish on his desk at work.

“There is definitely something to the saying, ‘the power of a wish’ because wishes really do have the ability to alter the course of a child's illness and recovery.”

That leads into more questions and commentary from outsiders of Make-A-Wish. Some may wonder, “Well, if these children aren’t terminal, what’s the point?” Though a cringe-worthy question, it’s a valid one; why grant these children’s wishes?

In a video published in 2016, Denise Bar Ahron, the co-founder and CEO of Make-A-Wish Israel, requested a study to show if the wish granting process for a child with a life-threatening medical condition actually affected the child’s mental and physical progress. “Our wishes are beautiful, but they’re also transformational,” said Ahron. Though a bold statement, was it accurate? Ahron reached out to Dr. Tal Ben Shahar asking for help researching this. And the results were remarkable.

According to Dr. Shahar, researchers looked at physiological as well as psychological measures and on every variable and every parameter, they saw improvement. “While doctors give the medicine, Make-A-Wish gives the magic,” said Dr. Shahar.

Dr. Shahar asked the same question we are all wondering: “Why does it work so well? Dr. Shahar explained that during this process, participants exercise a muscle they aren’t normally used to; they exercise the muscle of impossibility. “Once they have turned one impossibility into a possibility, why not do it elsewhere? Why not also do it when it comes to the medical condition they are treating?”

Not only do studies show this positive impact a wish can have, but there are actual wish kids that serve as a testament to this. Meet Maggie. Maggie is a wish alum who at 17-years-old was fighting cancer when her wish was granted. Maggie wished to go to Hawaii with her family. “It gave us all something to look forward to as I faced the last few grueling months of chemo. Having hope is a huge deal. It propels you to the next day. It makes the impending sickness just a little easier to fight through, knowing that if you just get through this one, a big week of fun awaits you on the other side,” said Maggie.

Maggie grew up and went on to be successful. According to an article posted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, she is now directing communications at BioSTL and was formerly the spokeswoman for St. Louis Mayor, Francis Slay.

Maggie has been cancer free for a long time now. “Looking back all of these years later, I can tell you that I didn’t quite realize the impact of that wish trip until years later. But here I am, telling you about it and remembering every little piece of it, even picturing what I wore while I was there.” Maggie said Hawaii is still one of her favorite places to this day.

The final misconception I want to address is that if one child receives a wish, it prevents another child from receiving a wish. A common theme among our wish kids and their parents is the fear that if they were to receive a wish, someone else wouldn’t. This is simply not true.

According to a blog post written by a fellow Make-A-Wish intern, “There is no warehouse of wishes that can go out of stock if too many people order them. And they don’t require some children to sacrifice for others… No child who receives a wish is taking a wish away from another child. It is not a zero sum game. When one child goes to Hawaii and gets a break from treatment, another child isn’t forced to watch from the sidelines.”

Misconceptions will always exist. It’s important to acknowledge them and spread the truth. If you have any questions about Make-A-Wish, please feel free to ask!

If you'd like to learn more about what children are eligible for wishes, visit our Refer a Child page.

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