As she battled cancer, eight-year-old Haley found inspiration in A Dolphin’s Tale, the story of Winter, the dolphin who learned to swim with a prosthetic tail after losing its own tail in a crab trap.
Like Winter, Haley survived hardship with strength, courage and adaptability. In February 2012, doctors discovered Haley had cancer around the cerebellum at the base of her brain. Doctors removed most of the tumor in an intensive 16-hour surgery, but they had to use radiation and chemotherapy to remove the remainder.
“Treatments for any kind of cancer are barbaric at best, and hers was no different,” said Jason, Haley’s dad. “It really knocked the wind out of not only her sails, but our family’s sails as a whole - mostly hers though.”
Happily, the treatments were successful, and doctors confirmed that Haley was cancer free. As they entered recovery mode, the family found another source of hope and inspiration when they were introduced to Make-A-Wish.
When Haley first met with Make-A-Wish volunteers, she debated between a trip to New York to watch a Broadway musical and a trip to Florida to visit Walt Disney World. She ultimately decided that Disney World would be a better choice because it would mean more to her as child.
“I love musicals, but I realized I can do that any time I want when I get older,” Haley said. “I can only be little and ‘me’ once, so I decided that I would rather go to Disney World than go to Broadway.”
Jason and Lisa, Haley’s parents, learned the wish was going to be granted, and they shared the news with Haley’s older sister, Hannah, who had helped care for Haley throughout the treatments. Haley’s dad said that the waiting period before the trip was just as much as part of the wish experience as the trip itself and they still share memories of it.
“Make-A-Wish gave us that anticipation, that sense of hope, that sense of having something to look forward to,” Jason said. “If I could only talk about that wish week, it wouldn’t be enough. It was the before, it was the during, and it’s the afterglow that still remains to this day.”
The family kept the trip a secret to build up the surprise for Haley, who didn’t find out until the day before they left. The spent a week in Florida, where she said that they were treated like royalty. They got special Genie passes that allowed them to go straight to the front of the lines for the rides, including Haley’s favorite ride, Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid.
Even after they returned home, the family could still re-live their favorite moments with their videos and pictures or sometimes when they see or hear something that reminds them of something that happened on the trip.
“It brings such a warm feeling of those were good times that we will never forget,” Jason said.
For Haley, one of the most unforgettable moments was meeting Belle from Beauty and the Beast.
“We really made a special bond together,” Haley said. “As we were leaving, she waved and said ‘Bye, Haley,’ and that made me feel really good.”
Another memorable moment during the trip occurred when the family went to Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the home of Winter from A Dolphin Tale. There, Haley got to be one of Winter’s trainers for the day. Haley, who still has a scar at the surgical site at the back of her head, felt a strong connection with Winter. The dolphin seemed to sense that Haley had experienced troubles and triumphs like she had, as she rolled over in the water to let Haley examine the scar where her tail had been.
“It was a really together moment that we had,” Haley said. “It made me happy; it made me really happy.”
Make-A-Wish gave us that anticipation, that sense of hope, that sense of having something to look forward to. If I could only talk about that wish week, it wouldn’t be enough. It was the before, it was the during, and it’s the afterglow that still remains to this day.
Jason, Haley’s dad