For some people, the ocean is a calming influence in times of stress. For wish kid Emily, 13, thoughts of floating lazily in calm, cool waters were often the only thing that would get her through long days in the hospital following one of her four surgeries to remove a very large tumor in her brain.
“When I was having a hard time getting through life, when surgery was keeping me on the ground and making me feel like they were taking away pieces of me, I would think of the ocean and a world where I could float and drift in the water,” said Emily. “A world where I was just like a mermaid.”
Emily can’t say how long she has loved mermaids since surgery to remove her tumor has taken away some of her earliest memories. However, she can share that a love of swimming and a love of the ocean didn’t start just because of surgery.
“I’ve always been a good swimmer and loved the ocean,” she said. “But when I was 9 or 10 and had to get surgery to remove a tumor from my brain because it was too close to my arteries, I used the ocean to focus and to think of what I could do if I could get out of there.”
It was after that first surgery when a nurse recommended to Emily’s mom that they refer her for a wish experience. Emily was elated when she heard she was getting a wish – thinking of all the possibilities helped get her though a second brain surgery a year later.
“I just wanted to get the whole [tumor] out but they couldn’t get it all,” she said. “I met with the Make-A-Wish people just after and I talked to them about wanting a silicone tail and to be a mermaid.”
While this was a unique request, Emily’s wish granters listened and took note of every detail.
“They never said no and they helped me do some research and talked to me about what exactly I wanted,” said Emily, who found a website dedicated to mermaid culture in Texas, of all places.
“I had two more surgeries in about one year, both near Halloween, and right after the last one, my wish granters said they could make my wish happen.”
Emily was gifted an incredible silicone tail, made to her requested specifications and her trip to San Marcos, Texas started with a photo shoot of her, in her tail, swimming swiftly through the San Marcos River.
“The water was so clear and clean. I could swim with my eyes open and it made my hair feel so soft,” said Emily. “The tail was so easy to swim with and it was made just for me. It felt like I was a real mermaid. And Jessica, who was my mermaid companion, was so great. Everyone knew her and then they knew me too.”
Jessica took Emily and her family around the town and to all the special mermaid-related activities that were happening that week, including the special Mermaid Ball. Emily also was the Grand Marshal of the Mermaid Parade before the ball but was too shy to be in costume on the float.
“Instead, I got to ride in a corvette with this other mermaid, Mermaid Mia, who rode on the back of the car in her tail,” said Emily. “It was perfect.”
After four days in the special mermaid town, Emily and her family went to visit some fish friends at the SeaWorld in San Antonio before heading home.
According to Emily, that wish experience really transformed her life.
“When I came home, I decided to change schools because I didn’t have a lot of nice people in my school before I left and when I was on my wish, everyone was so nice to me and to each other. It was so cool to see how they treated me like I was special. I wanted that feeling all the time and now I have lots of friends and people at my new school that make me feel the same as I did on my wish,” said Emily. “There is no way to choose a favorite part. It was so perfect.”
Current scans also show that Emily’s tumor is completely gone so she won’t have to worry another surgery might wipe the wish from her memory.
“My wish will be with my always, especially when I need to forget things. Now I have a specific place I can go in my mind to relax,” said Emily. “I know I will be a mermaid for the rest of my life.”