What does it mean to have a life-long wish granted? Wish kid Austin, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 14, shares the story of his wish to have his novel published and what it means for him today as a cancer survivor.
I started writing my novel, My Hand Mitten, after my cancer treatments.
While I was in the hospital, I often wrote in notebooks, sharing my thoughts, emotions, dreams and wisdom from God. Not really fiction, more about my journey and where I wanted to go.
Then I had my bone marrow transplant. I was in shock from the idea of being stuck in my bed once again and started to realize there were many things that were important to me in life – my friends, my family, school, and my writing.
That’s when I began typing, originally aiming for a short story. I typed for hours at a time, in the mornings and at night, as the overwhelming distress and anger I had for having to be stuck in bed, stuck at home, stuck with this cancer, increased the pressure of being me. I felt a release with my writings. I felt like the outside world would never understand what it was like to be me, to go through this cancer, and I needed to let them know.
I wrote almost every day after school, sometimes in tears before I even began. Writing became an escape. My character, Mark Wegman, shared my story of how someone’s life could crumble, how the ripple effect could take away control. I wrote his story for a year and a half and it helped me return a little each day to myself.
Make-A-Wish Arizona helped me return a little more.
My wish granter volunteers first visited with me in the summer of 2013, a year and a half before the concept of my novel was even created. I was dangerously ill, at a total weight of around 88 pounds. I had a restricted diet for my bacterial infection, which would only allow me to periodically suck on a wet sponge.
In fact, my first idea for my wish was simply a soda fountain because I loved and missed fountain soda and, I had learned through my many treatments, to never take even the tiniest gifts for granted.
Due to my treatment schedule, I had three more years of active thinking. It was a suggestion from my father that I think about my writing as a potential wish. I knew instantly that he was right – it was my heartfelt wish to have other people read the story I had been typing away at for the past four years.
Make-A-Wish took my novel, all 47,000 words of it and shared it around. Rare Bird Lit, with employees who I now count as good friends, picked it up and said, “Yes, we see potential in that."
And so, Make-A-Wish surprised me at school, during a meeting of the club I founded, Ironwood Cares for Kids, to tell me that they had a contract to publish my book.
My heart exploded with excitement, with some immediate disbelief, as I never would have believed that I could even be considered for publication. A new chapter began that day, as the chapters in my novel would soon be discovered, and I could live the dream I’ve had for the past ten years.
Yet, there was work to do. But this kind of work was not about treatments and staying alive – it was about hope and ideas and brainstorming and thoughts and beliefs. It was about merging my past with my future and seeing my words become a true story.
Make-A-Wish Arizona sent me to California to meet the editors, publishers and marketing team of Rare Bird. To shake their hands were indescribably surreal. Like a student, I listened and absorbed as much as I could, taking in as much advice as a young, inexperienced writer. I was overly blessed to even speak with such a kind, and genuine publishing house, and this still stands true today. We had lunch, discussed our favorite works of fiction, and I learned two potently valuable truths that day; they were real and my novel will truly be published.
They ended the day with some words I never expected, “Remember us little people when you are famous.” My cheeks were red.
I worked for months with the publishing company, clarifying my themes and ideas. I did notice that the re-writes were a reminder of the emotional wreckage I crammed onto those documents. The PTSD that cancer gave me had not gone away with my cancer. It was alive and well and something that this book, this process, this wish, could help me see and overcome.
When you read my novel, I know you will read between the lines to see the mental and physical effects from cancer. However, I also hope you will see what I see now, thanks to Rare Bird Lit and Make-A-Wish Arizona: redemption and recovery can happen.
I am blessed and grateful to be alive today. This novel is my redemption, and a representation that kindness still exists and recovery is possible. And that a wish can make a life-long dream a reality.