Will and Stanley's new journey starts
Will wished for a puppy to be by his side when he finally returned home after a long medical journey.
Lumps lead to shock
The phone rang at Wish parents Anthony and Liz's place at 4pm on a Friday. The message was short and clear. They had to take their 14-year-old son Will to the hospital's emergency department because he had cancer.
Days earlier, Anthony and Liz had a couple of lumps in Will's neck checked out by doctors but were told not to worry.
"We were totally unprepared," Anthony said.
"It was a feeling of shock.
At the hospital, we talked to numerous doctors and a lot of them explained everything to us, but I can still only remember one word from that night: cancer."
COVID adds to tough time
Within four days, the hospital confirmed its initial suspicion that Will had acute lymphoblastic lymphoma.
For almost a year, Will received intensive chemotherapy. Will's treatment coincided with Melbourne's second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving parents Anthony and Liz with little support.
"Because of the COVID restrictions, people couldn't come into our house or help us at the hospital," Anthony said. "Often, we weren't allowed in the hospital together, so we'd see each other for 15 minutes in the car park at the front of the hospital."
In addition to losing his hair, Will lost a lot of weight and was confined to a wheelchair during his treatment. Fortunately, the chemotherapy got results, and Will is in the maintenance phase of his treatment and scheduled to continue his medication until early 2022.
One of the more positive aspects of Will’s hospital stay was deciding what he’d like to wish for.
"He said many different things, and a puppy would keep coming up, but he couldn’t decide. Eventually we said 'it sounds like maybe you’d like a puppy' and so he decided that’s what his wish would be," Anthony said.
"The wish was something that kept him going all the way through his medical journey."
Wish anticipation brightens the days
When your child is in hospital, their health tends to be the subject of most, if not all, conversations.
But, according to wish dad Anthony, Will's wish was a much-needed conversation starter.
"People don't know what to say to a kid with cancer," Anthony said. "But the wish gave people something to talk to Will about.
"And as parents, the wish gives you something else to talk to your child about when they are going through a horrible journey."
Anthony said the future arrival of a puppy gave the whole family something to look forward to.
"It's a very long journey not just for the child with cancer, but it's a rough journey for the whole family: siblings, parents, grandparents and everyone involved," he said.
Love at first sight
There were some nerves around the arrival of Will's groodle puppy named Stanley (after Marvel Comics' Stan Lee).
Will's family had never had a dog before. They thought it would be hard work training the puppy. But their fears dissipated hours after Stanley's arrival.
"It was love at first sight," Anthony said.
"Stanley has entered all our lives and made a huge change to our family. It's just been a positive change. You can see the impact not only on Will but on his siblings too; they are a lot more relaxed."
Anthony said the dog had become a companion for Will, now aged 16.
"Will gets out of bed early in the morning to see Stanley, and Stanley's always very happy to see him," Anthony said.
"Will can’t wait to take Stanley on walks once his vaccinations have kicked in.
"Make-A-Wish has done something we would never have done ourselves. It's been an opportunity to see our son feeling positive and excited again after what's been a really tough journey."
Stanley has entered all our lives and made a huge change to our family. It's just been a positive changeAnthony, father of Will 15 acute lymphoblastic lymphoma
The Wish Journey
How a wish comes to life
Make-A-Wish volunteers visit each child to capture their greatest wish, getting to the heart of what kids truly want and why. This profound insight is part of what makes Make-A-Wish unique, giving children full creative control and helping to shape their entire Wish Journey.
Back at Make-A-Wish HQ, we partner with families, volunteers and medical teams to design the ultimate wish experience - and start rallying our partners and supporters to help make it happen.
In the lead up to the wish, we take each child on a journey designed to build excitement and provide a welcome distraction from medical treatment. Anticipation can be incredibly powerful, helping to calm, distract and inspire sick kids at a time they need it most.
When the moment finally arrives, children get to experience their greatest wish come true - it's everything they've imagined and more. Pinch yourself, and don't forget to take a breath and enjoy every precious moment!
Wish impact studies show that a child's wish lives on, long after the moment. A wish gives more than just hope – with an incredible and lasting effect on the lives of sick kids, their families and wider communities.