Leon was a happy, active 10-year-old boy who enjoyed daily soccer practice and weekend games when his dad noticed the lump on the side of his neck. After multiple doctor visits, Leon's Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was diagnosed when he was 11-years-old. Leon recalls that the worst part of the diagnosis was the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans which required laying perfectly still for 2 to 3 hours while a loud machine scanned his whole body. “I wanted to cry but I was afraid if I moved, I would have to go through the whole scan again” Leon said.
Just after his 12th birthday the doctor said that Leon was in good shape and the family was able to move back to the United States. Leon stated, “We visited my grandmother in New York where we went sledding, skiing, and snowmobiling. I was so happy to be normal again.” But it didn’t last long. Leon's mom noticed that he was losing weight, sweating at night, and getting sores in his mouth again. The visit with the new oncologist revealed that the lymphoma was back and that chemotherapy would be needed to treat it. Leon recalls, “I was never scared or cried until my hair started falling out. When my hair fell out, the cancer felt real. I got scared and told my mom that I wasn’t ready to die and that I was tired of being so sick all the time.’
During the chemotherapy treatments, “two nice ladies from Make-A-Wish’ visited me and asked me if I could wish anything what would it be? It didn’t take me long to think of a wish! I told them I wanted to go to Hawaii! I wanted to go someplace tropical, explore, see whales, and go snorkeling,” said Leon. He always dreamed of exploring a tropical island, and whales have always been his favorite animal. “If I could go someplace tropical with beautiful sand and blue water, I would have something lovely to picture when I have to sit through all of the tests and scans that I get.” While lying on the table waiting for scans, Leon couldn’t stop thinking about Hawaii. “I tried to picture what it would look like because I’ve never been to a place like that. The images help me get through the scans and I felt like I could be more still and feel a little bit less scared.”
When chemotherapy was finished it took a long time for Leon’s hair to grow back and took even longer for his immune system to recover. In July 2018, Leon’s wish to go to Hawaii was granted. Leon’s dream to hike and explore a tropical island became a reality. He couldn’t decide if the dolphin excursion or the snorkeling in Turtle Town was his favorite; but says “both were outstanding! I loved swimming with the dolphins so much, I wanted to keep the dolphin.”
Leon’s wish was a positive experience for the entire family. While the wish was a springboard for Leon spending more time outdoors and being more active, Leon's mom credits the wish experience as being just what the family needed. “You forget how it feels to do normal things. It was a fantastic opportunity to step out of our current stressful lifestyle. It felt great to do normal things, spend time together without feeling depressed, thinking about treatment and having bad attitudes with one another. The best part was that it made Leon happy!”