John Willis, 13, was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in January 2011 after complaining for months that his arm was hurting. He underwent treatment and for the last 18 months has been in remission.
The foundation is sending John, along with his parents, Sam and Lisa Willis, and his sixth-grade, brother Ethan Willis, to Costa Rica during the first week of January to see a volcano, participate in a cave tour, and go whitewater rafting and fishing.
“I was surprised,” said the teenager, who said he got a little suspicious of the surprise when his principal mentioned Make-A-Wish on the morning announcements.
John Willis asked to see a volcano because he thought it would be cool.
“I don’t think I’ve ever really seen one in person,” he said.
His mother said they chose to make the announcement at the school because they have been so supportive during her son’s illness and recovery.
Teachers helped get his schoolwork sent to Children’s Hospital of Atlanta, where John Willis was being treated, and helped him in the classroom when he returned to school bald and only weighing about 60 pounds.
“They created such a warm and personal environment,” Lisa Willis said. “The tribute is to the school, foundations, hospitals and people who are changing the outlook of cancer from something to be ashamed of to something one can brag about.”
John’s father is scheduled to return from a 10-month deployment in Afghanistan just before Christmas day, so Lisa Willis said the trip’s timing could not have been better.
“We’ve been going through two basically traumas in our family, cancer and then having a father leave for a year,” she said. “With the kindness of the school and this trip, it helps you to stop and forge through it and so now it’s time to breathe.”
Melissa Hladik, who lives in Cobb and is a wish-granter with the organization, said Make A Wish has granted 250,000 wishes to children living with life-threatening diseases since 1980.
“It’s fantastic that the family wanted to share it with the school and that the school has been so instrumental in his recovery,” she said.
Hladik said it took a little time for John to decide what wish he wanted granted because he wanted to include his family in the activity.
“He’s very humble,” she said. “Some of these kids we work with have been through so much that they want to just chill out, but he wanted an adventure and it’s great that he does because for so long he wasn’t able to do much.”