Wish mom and volunteer Joanna Blankenship shared her family’s story with Make-A-Wish after becoming a volunteer, working to reach the Hispanic community. Her daughter, Cassy, passed away in August of 2016 after her wish to go on an Alaskan cruise. But her daughter’s death wasn’t the end, it was instead a new beginning.
Our daughter Cassy was full of life and was loved by everyone who met her. She loved spending time with family, friends, and being a typical teenager. But on September 7, 2014, our lives were forever changed. We took Cassy to the ER at LeBonheur Children’s Hospital with uncontrollable headaches, neck pain, and vomiting. About fifteen minutes after Cassy’s CT scan, the ER physician came back into the room and gave us the devastating news. The CT scan revealed a lesion (tumor) in Cassy’s brain. I remember being in complete shock. Tears were running down my face, heart racing, knees shaking, all in disbelief.
Cassy spent two weeks in the Neuro ICU at LeBonheur and on September 18, she was sent to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. At St. Jude, we were given the final diagnosis: Glioblastoma Stage 4. Glioblastoma is one of the most aggressive brain tumors, there is no cure, and it is a terminal cancer. Just five months later, we were told to take our daughter home and cherish everyday with her.
On May 13, 2015, Cassy was granted her wish to go on an Alaskan Cruise. At Cassy’s wish reveal, our family was overwhelmed with joy and humbled by the generosity of strangers. This trip was an escape for Cassy; she did not have to think about cancer, radiation, chemo, MRI scans, and therapy appointments. She was able to enjoy just being a teenager. Make-A-Wish not only gave our family a vacation, it gave us memories with our daughter that we will always treasure in our hearts.
I have many wonderful memories of Cassy’s Alaskan cruise. Cassy and our family were allowed to go into the bridge of the cruise ship to meet the Captain. He explained to us how everything on the ship worked and gave Cassy a map of our course through Alaska and awarded her Honorary Captain. Our family was also allowed into the kitchen to meet with the ship’s chef. He showed her around the kitchen and Cassy was able to decorate her own cake. My best memory is seeing Cassy’s beautiful smile throughout the trip. The cruise was one of the most memorable experiences our family has had and it wouldn’t have been possible without Make-A-Wish.
On August 8, 2016 what would have been Cassy’s first day of high school was her first day in heaven. Cassy passed away peacefully in my arms surrounded by family. Through her cancer journey Cassy underwent a craniotomy, tumor resection, two shunt surgeries, six weeks of cranial spinal radiation, three different chemo treatments, various physical therapy sessions, and suffered short-term memory problems from radiation. Although cancer took so much from our family, it also presented blessings and experiences we would have never known otherwise. One major positive was coming to know and understand the importance of Make-A-Wish.
I want to give back as a volunteer because I am forever grateful for what Make-A-Wish did for our daughter, Cassy. I know from personal experience how much joy and excitement a wish can bring not only to the wish child but also to the entire family. As a parent, I also believe that positivity can improve the child’s physical health. For me, Make-A-Wish means an opportunity to make an impact on someone’s life. When someone you love goes through a life-threatening condition, it puts your life into perspective. You realize that the most important thing in life is your family and the memories you create. You learn to live for every moment. Make-A-Wish does just that, it gives these children the opportunity to live in the moment.
The time you invest and the attention you give to every detail in a child’s wish will change your life. When you see the smile and reaction on a wish child’s face, you know their heart is filled with gratitude. But the need for bilingual volunteers is very crucial. As bilingual volunteers, we can spread the word of how great this foundation is amongst the Spanish speaking community. Speaking to these families in their native language allows us as volunteers to make a personal connection with them and build trust amongst one another. These families and children will then feel more comfortable and more prone to express their feelings.
Through being a volunteer, I hope to inspire others to find joy even in their most difficult circumstances. My daughter Cassy could always find the good in any situation, and had a smile on her face even through the most trying of times. I want to leave a mark on this world just like my daughter Cassy did. That is why I know I want to be a part of Make-A-Wish Mid-South and why this foundation is so near to my heart.
Cassy and her mom Joanna aboard a train in Alaska
Cassy's wish trip on an Alaskan cruise
Joanna with her daughter Cassy and family in Alaska
Cassy on her Alaska cruise
This trip was an escape for Cassy; she did not have to think about cancer, radiation, chemo, MRI scans, and therapy appointments. She was able to enjoy just being a teenager.
Joanna, Cassy's mom