Jackson's Story - Christmas Appeal 2023
Little Jackson loves Christmas snow much, that he wears Christmas socks all year round and watches The Grinch on repeat. But there’s one big question Jackson has, why doesn’t it snow at Christmas in Australia? His ultimate wish is for a snowy Christmassy adventure to live out his favourite festive movies and that’s exactly what will unfold for 5-year-old Jackson and his family next Winter.
With big hopes of seeing Santa and his reindeers, throwing snowballs at his older brothers, and of course wearing his favourite Christmas pyjamas – Jackson is snow excited for his wish next year.
Jackson and his family were based in the Northern Territory when Jackson was first diagnosed. Jackson and his two older brothers Jayden and Jai spent their days adventuring outdoors. They loved swimming, fishing and riding their dirt bikes. So, when Jackson’s mum Brooke was told Jackson had a Wilm’s Tumour on his kidney and needed to be rushed to Brisbane hospital, the biggest shock was finding out they had to stay there, indefinitely.
“When we got on the plane, I thought we would be gone for a week” says Brooke. “When we got to the city, we were told, ‘No, you’re not going anywhere. You need to stay here, for as long as it takes.’
Month after month, Jackson and Brooke stayed in Brisbane while the rest of the family were back in the Northern Territory. As you can imagine, it was incredibly hard for the entire family to be apart for so long while Jackson was having treatment so far away.
“Being separated was the hardest part. Covid then also stopped us being able to see each other. I struggled not seeing the other boys for months and missing special occasions. David struggled not being able to see Jackson during such a tough time.”
Jackson was only three years old at the time, Brooke had to simply explain that his kidney wasn’t working properly and needed to be taken out to make sure he didn’t become sick. Thankfully the Wilms’ tumour was diagnosed at stage 1. But Jackson still needed intensive surgery to remove the kidney, followed by a gruelling round of chemotherapy.
“It was really hard for Jackson, being isolated from his family. While he was having treatment, he wasn’t really allowed to go anywhere or do anything,” says Brooke, “I don't know how many times he said to me ‘I just want to go and ride my bike’ and ‘I just want to go home’ and ‘I just want to go to Grandpa's’. He was completely removed from his whole life, and he didn't know why.”
Small and Strong
Jackson may only be five, but he just wants to be a big kid.
Brooke describes him as the most outgoing, independent and strong-willed person she has ever met.
"If he decides that he's doing something, that's it. He's doing that.” says Brooke, “Whether you say no or stop him at first, he'll just wait till you're not looking. If he's decided, then that's what he's doing.”
Taking after his older brothers, little Jackson is now taking on some big kid responsibilities – like catching the bus to school.
“We have a bus that picks him up on our driveway and drops him off on our driveway. He's very impressed with himself that he gets to catch the bus to school. If I have to drop him off, he says ‘it's alright, mum, you can wait at the gate. I'll walk myself in’”.
Being only recently off treatment, Jackson can’t yet play tackle sports – but that hasn’t stopped him picking up Austag. He was beyond excited getting his first pair of shorts and playing his first game.
“We were all so excited to see Jackson play! He skipped around the field with a huge grin on his face the entire game. He was so happy to have his own uniform and even scored his first try.”
A Big Imagination
Brooke also compares Jackson to a little Bowerbird, collecting bags of things and then pretending to go to work each day.
"He has his phone, his bags and a uniform and he changes his job every day. He literally lives in his own world.”
An imagination so big, Jackson thrives on a sense of wonder.
“I think that's why he loves Christmas so much, because there's so much magic and you can make something so big and exciting out of it. It’s the not knowing what’s going to happen next! He loves the tinsel, the lights, the gingerbread and the random little presents”, says Brooke.
“In the lead up to Christmas last year, every morning he got up asking ‘is it Christmas, is it Christmas?”. It happens every morning from the minute we put the tree up. We had to get the calendar out so he could mark it every day.”
A Festive Family
For Jackson and his family, Christmas preparations started a month ago! Christmas is a magical time for the family, so Brooke and David have created traditions that Santa himself would be proud of.
“We put the tree up in mid-November, and then on December 1st the Elf comes and brings lots of trinkets for the boys. The Elf is somewhere different every day in December, so that keeps the boys so excited.”
If you visited Jackson and his family in December, you would find a house filled with the smell of freshly baked gingerbread – another important tradition that starts when the tree goes up and continues in warm batches until Christmas.
“Then on Christmas Eve the Elf brings them all matching Christmas pyjamas, and they all get a book that we read or a movie to watch on Christmas Eve. Something we can do as a family” says Brooke, “these are the special things we do at Christmas that they all look forward to. They’ve associated these things now with Christmas, which was my goal.”
As Brooke grew up, she says she didn’t have these types of traditions and it felt important to her to create them for her kids.
“We started these traditions from when Jayden was the age of one. We bought the matching pyjamas, and it just grew from there. They expect it all now, so you can't drop the ball!”
“We have an electric train that goes around the bottom of the tree. Last year was the first time that we could get it out and they were so excited! It was the first time the three of them have been able to just sit and play around the tree together, so that was really special.”
Impact on the Family
But Jackson’s wish gave him a chance to think big. It helped him look beyond his illness – to a future full of hope, joy and snowflakes.
“When we met with Make-A-Wish for the first time, they told Jackson, ‘Make this wish as big as you can! Get creative and think outside the box! Coming up with different ideas took his mind off what was in front of him – his treatment. It gave him somewhere else to go.”
And given his favourite time of year, it was no surprise that Jackson settled on the idea of going walking in a winter wonderland – just like in the Christmas movies he loves.
Brooke and the family went into autopilot during Jackson’s treatment. She says everyone just got on with it.
“It was one day at a time. I couldn’t think too much about it because I wouldn’t be able to function or support Jackson. We just keep saying ‘this is what we're doing and there's nothing we can do about it,’ so we may as well just do the best we can.”
So, the wish is not only a time to celebrate Jackson having hit his five-year mark of officially being in remission – but it’s a time for the family to be together and make new life-long memories.
“Since moving to Brisbane in the last 12 months, we have all had to adjust to new schools, new jobs, a new town and a new everything. The wish will be a chance for us all to sit back,” says Brooke, “spend some quality time together as a family and reflect on how far we’ve come.”
“I’m hoping in a way it just signifies the end. Once we hit that five-year mark, we're officially finished. I'm hoping that it feels to him like we're done. It's wrapped up. Like ‘You did that! Let's enjoy it and move on!’
“I think we still have a lot of processing to do. So, when we’re somewhere like the snow with Make-A-Wish and the kids are throwing snowballs at each other, we’ll be able to breathe and start to process some of it.”
Just imagine the family’s joy when they finally make it to the snow and have a proper white Christmas all together – with snowflakes falling and gingerbread baking.
"Giving families and children something to look forward to in such a hard time is really important. Sometimes that's the only thing that gets you through that day. The fact that you've got something to look forward to. Because when you're sitting in the hospital with those four walls, it can be really hard to even look past the door.
We're a family that really pushes the magic of Christmas because magic is real. Not necessarily with a magic wand, but if you believe in something, anything can be magical, if you let it.
And with Make-A-Wish, the whole spirit of it - is that it’s a wish. It can be as magical as you want it to be. Even before Jackson became sick, I was a Make-A-Wish supporter and that's how I always looked at it. If I can give a little bit of magic to someone, then that helps me get through my day too. And it just so happened that now I’m on the other end of it as well!”