There was a lot to look forward to when David finished the first half of his junior year of high school. He was preparing for the ACT, track season was approaching, and he was beginning to make all the necessary plans for college. But in early 2018, those plans and hopes all changed. In January of that year, David was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma on his vocal cords, one of the rarest forms of cancer there is. Before long, the disease coupled with his intense chemotherapy left him weak, and eventually he decided he no longer wanted to be in school. But that doesn’t mean he wanted to stop learning.
Ever since he was a young boy, David has loved to fish, and growing up in small lake community, he always had plenty of opportunity to go out and practice. Looking to fill his spare time while back at home battling his disease, rather than simply sticking to what he knew, David wanted to try something he had never done before: fly fishing. With the help of YouTube tutorials, books from the library, and hours spent at the nearby lake, he taught himself the skill.
When the mother of another teen diagnosed with cancer first recommended Make-A-Wish to David’s parents, David was a bit reluctant. As he battled the disease, he didn’t want pity, attention, or for his illness to be “all that anybody saw him as.” Yet after meeting with the people involved, David had a change of heart and was excited when he learned his wish would be granted: going fly-fishing in Yellowstone National Park.
Along for the trip was his sister, his mother and father, and his grandparents. Despite arriving in June, they were surprised to find the park snowy and cold. While it remained that way for the rest of their visit, that didn’t prevent the family from having a great time, or the people of Yellowstone from treating them like royalty. When they arrived at Jackson Hole Resort that first day, they went up to their room to discover a card signed by the staff, a fishing hat, and several other gifts waiting for David. “It was really extra special, the way they treated him,” David’s mother said.
The next day, along with his father and grandfather, David went fly fishing, accompanied by a guide from Madison River Outfitters. While the group was only scheduled to be out for half a day, the guide kept David out fishing for three more hours, taking him to different rivers around the park and giving him a few of his own flies, as well as a proper lesson. The family stayed for three more days in the park and went on several other adventures including horseback riding, a chuckwagon excursion, and a cruise on Jackson Lake, but David described his time out fishing in the waters of Yellowstone as the best experience of the trip. “Rachel and Josh, our volunteer wish granters, were incredible,” David’s mother said. “They really went above and beyond for David.”
After his diagnosis, David was just as driven to learn as before, but fly fishing is not the only skill he taught himself. Not long after leaving school, he also devoted his time to teaching himself physics and calculus, and only three months after his diagnosis, he tested out of all his classes. When he was well enough, he paired up with an ACT tutor. On a test with the highest possible score being a 36, David scored a 33. He went on to not only graduate on time, but also be valedictorian of his class.
David’s last chemo appointment was in May of 2018, and while he still must make regular checkups for the foreseeable future, there has been no evidence of the disease since then. Despite his challenges and setbacks, David, now 18, is currently a freshman in the Honors Program at the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business and hopes to someday work in finance. Although his time is now dedicated to learning in the classroom, he has gotten the chance to apply the skills he learned firsthand on his trip to Yellowstone. Later, during the same summer of his wish, David went out fly-fishing again with his uncle and grandpa in Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina and caught several huge trout. “He’s so grateful,” his mother said, “as we all are, for what Make-A-Wish did for him.”