"Our cancer journey began completely by surprise. Heiden was only in preschool when doctors diagnosed him with pneumonia. Instead of getting better, his skin turned orange and his fever wouldn’t die down, so we took him in for bloodwork. It was then that lab results would confirm that our boy had leukemia. It was crushing.
From the very beginning, we committed to keeping things normal for him. His mother Ali and I are both teachers, and we knew we had to get down on his level to help him understand what he was going through. Our son loves Star Wars, so we used it as a metaphor for his cancer fight. Framing his journey as a Star Wars mission was really helpful for him to make sense of things.
We explained he’d have to go on Jedi missions, just like Obi Wan. We told him, 'you’re brave and strong, like a Jedi. And you’re going to have to go through trials, like losing your hair and being sick.' We told him that was ok, because the strongest Jedi, like Master Yoda and Mace Windu, don’t have hair either. When we had 12-hour hospital treatment days, we explained to him that sometimes missions were long and tough, but they’re still our mission. Along the way, we always told him he was getting stronger and stronger on his journey toward becoming a Jedi master.
It was early fall when we met our two Wish Granters. Heiden was deep into his ‘Jedi training,’ having been though 18-months of treatment to battle his leukemia and fresh off his most intensive chemotherapy cycle. Seeing what he went through, and others like him, it goes without saying that no child ever deserves that. No parent should ever have to see the ferocity with which cancer can destroy childhood. And yet on that morning, Make-A-Wish® touched our family in a very powerful way.
Heiden has always dreamed of being a Jedi, and when his Wish Granters came, we knew he’d wish to become one at Star Wars Galaxy Edge.
Our trip to Walt Disney World® was nothing short of truly magical. His smile was unending the entire trip. He ate pizza and ice cream every day. He took pictures with Chewie, kissed BB8, high fived with Rey, piloted the Millennium Falcon, and battled with Darth Vader on his way to becoming a Jedi.
In his own words, it was 'Rainbow 1,000.' (He says rainbow is the color of the best mood possible and 1,000 is the biggest number he uses in kindergarten.)
It wasn’t just a great trip, but also a powerful metaphor in our Star Wars journey. The day when Heiden finished 'Trials of the Jedi Temple' at Disney World, and became a Jedi, the Jedi Master took Heiden aside. He kneeled down and told him he had the power within him to fight his cancer, and reminded him to not fear the Dark Side, including the challenges of cancer.
'I’ll be brave,' Heiden told him. 'Because now I’m a Jedi. The Light Side is in my heart and I am strong.'
In that moment his battle with cancer changed from one of anxiety and fear, into triumph.
That is how great an impact Make-A-Wish had on our son. His wish wasn’t just gifts, a celebration, or a vacation. You gave him something far more priceless. You gave our six-year-old little boy a new hope in fighting cancer, and his future after it. As his parents, we do not know what the future has in store for our son, but your gift has given him courage to live it.
You will never know how much that means to us. We will never forget what you have done."
-Letter from Heiden's parents