Tapanga was just finishing up her junior year of high school when doctors found a small tumor in her foot. Initially thought to be a cyst, she and her family were shocked to learn it was a form of sarcoma. Choosing the course of treatment that gave her the greatest chance of complete recovery, Tapanga’s foot was amputated that July 2014.
“I remember thinking of everything I wasn’t going to be able to do,” says Tapanga. “I was afraid I wouldn’t get to graduate from high school because I’d miss too many classes. I wasn’t sure what limits my life was going to have.”
This past March, Tapanga’s wish to travel with her family to see the Northern Lights in Alaska was granted.
“I had always loved the idea of visiting Alaska, but I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle traveling so far and doing everything,” Tapanga says. “But the trip made me realize that my life isn’t going to be as limited as I thought.”
Tapanga’s wish experience reads like many people’s bucket lists.
She viewed the lights from a mountaintop two nights in a row, calling it a spiritual, alien-like experience that words can’t describe. She also went snowmobiling, experienced a dogsled ride and learned about carving ice sculptures from a master carver at the nearby ice museum.
“Knowing that I had just been through a major medical thing that kept me off my feet for five months before getting fitted for my prosthetic and learning to walk with it,” says Tapanga. “This trip showed me that I could still go out and have a really fun time!”
One of Tapanga’s priorities with her wish was that it included her entire family of six.
“I didn’t want it to be only about me,” she says. “This wasn’t just my problem; it affected everyone in my family emotionally and financially. We needed this chance to spend time together and regroup as a family. We did so many fun things, but some of the best times were hanging out in the hotel room talking and laughing.”
Next up, Tapanga starts college classes to begin preparing for a career in nursing.
“I’m good in a crisis,” notes Tapanga. “My grandmother was a trauma nurse, and I have wanted to be a nurse for a while.”