My family always knew how to have fun. My mother, father, and brother all taught me, in their own ways, that there’s always a reason to laugh; that my sense of humor can be an anchor in even the most turbulent of storms. Those lessons stuck with me, and have made me the man I am today.
When I was 5, I got diagnosed with Leukemia. In the same year, my brother Mike was diagnosed with ADHD. For my parents, everything changed. Literally everything changed forever. But for me, this was age 5. Life was just life, because I was just a child. Ah, to be young again.
I didn’t really understand how different age 6 was going to be.
Spoiler alert: I kicked cancer’s butt. Month-long hospital stays slowly became monthly outpatient check-ups. My hair grew back. I almost felt like a regular 6-year-old, whatever that means. That’s about when Make-A-Wish Foundation approached me and my folks. They told me I deserved to have my wish come true, and they asked me what I wanted most in the world.
Honestly, at first I didn’t get it. Doesn’t everyone deserve to have their wish come true? Do people with cancer get to skip the line? Do kids with cancer get to skip ahead of the adults? And wait—I’m already through the worst of it. It’s downhill from here, baby! Why should I get my wish granted when there’s younger kids with more tubes and tape on the other side of this curtain. Why me?
Thankfully, my parents and the Make A Wish team talked some sense into me. I daydreamed for weeks, until I settled on a family vacation to Disneyland, near my hometown of Santa Barbara, California. Our hotel even put my name on the marquee. To a little kid, this is like winning a Grammy.
Disneyland was awesome. Exactly what all my friends had told me. The wait lines were excruciatingly long, which to a kid is definitely a buzzkill, but other than that, my brother Mike and I got to run around like Lost Boys. My expert karate technique was on point. For almost a week, we did whatever we wanted.
On the final day, as the sun was getting low in the sky, everyone in Disneyland started migrating to Main Street. I asked my dad why, and he told me it was the Electrical Parade, the shining jewel of the family vacation catalogue. Everyone was lining up to get a good seat. We’d better hurry if we don’t want to miss out.
I asked my dad if we would even be able to see it from behind the crowd. His eyebrow raised up like The Pink Panther. He reminded me that I always have options. He asked what roller coaster I would choose to ride, if he could guarantee me that for the next hour, there would be no line.
Say what you will about Splash Mountain or Matterhorn — and don’t even talk to me about tea cups — but if you want the definitive #1 Disneyland roller coaster for repeat ride-ability, all roads lead to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
The best. Of all time. My dad and I rode that bad boy over and over. Every time we stuttered across the finish line, I gave a thumbs up to the pimply kid running the switchboard, and away we’d go again. I lost count after the seventh time. I was king of the world, at just six years old.
So now I’m 33. I live in Seattle with my wife Amber and our dog Taco. I’m a music video director, a social media expert, a civil rights accomplice, and a volunteer in the Healing Music program at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. I have PTSD, chronic anxiety, and boundless optimism for the human experience.
What I knew back then, that week in Disneyland, is that despite all the pain, the sadness, the fear… Life is beautiful and I deserve my time in the sun. That’s been a good value for me to grow up with. But that’s not the only value that you support, when you donate to Make A Wish Foundation. It’s much bigger than that.
All these years, I’ve still been learning from my fight with Leukemia. I’ve discovered real lasting benefits from that one moment 27 years ago, when I chose to ditch the crowded madness and take an endless free ride with my dad. As I grew up, I’ve discovered that the best way to show gratitude for a gift is to pay it forward. The truest way to pay it forward is to find people who are struggling, and find a way to lighten their burden. The easiest way to lighten their burden is by lifting their spirits with joy, fun, and laughter.
You taught me that. You, the thousands of donors and supporters of this great organization, taught me to pay it forward. When you bestow a wish to these kids, you teach them that everyone deserves to be spoiled rotten with happiness. Not just sick kids. Not just kids. Everyone. Just imagine how much happiness you can create for the future with your gift to Make A Wish. Thank you.