'Wish' lifts spirits of family at just the right time

Imagine the shock of parents who, after a simple blood test, were told their daughter was seriously ill. Jody and Toby Henderson got that call from their daughter Addison’s physician in the fall of 2012 when she was just 6. After receiving that call, they somehow went into overdrive to get their daughter the care she needed.

“I couldn’t believe we were heading to the hospital,” said Jody Henderson. “Her doctor told us to go immediately.”

Thus started Addison’s journey battling leukemia.

“Addison was so, so sick for four months after her diagnosis, spending almost 40 days in the hospital,” Jody said.

She missed nearly all of Christmas that year fighting infections and the side effects of her treatment. Between weekly treatments, labs and doctors’ appointments, and being constantly nauseated and vomiting, Addison and her entire family were all consumed with her leukemia.

When a child becomes ill, the entire family is deeply affected. Parents are busy shuttling their child to appointments, caring for them at home and trying to continue to work as bills and stress pile up. Siblings are often looked after by other family members or friends. As the eldest of three daughters, Addison’s absence was keenly felt by her sisters, Avery and Ansley.

“Her absence definitely changed the dynamic in the family, for the better once Addison was home,” said Jody. “The girls are as close as ever and are very connected. They call themselves the ‘Super Sibs!’ ”

She received her Special Wish to go to Give Kids the World and Walt Disney World about two months into her treatment, but had to wait to go until her health improved. Her wish gave her tremendous hope for better days and something the entire family could look forward to.

In October of 2013, the Henderson family was finally able to leave for Give Kids the World for a week-long, much-needed vacation.

“(It was) the best week of our lives,” Jody said. “Besides eating ice cream any time we wanted, the trip was indeed the best medicine in the world.”

Giving the entire family a chance to reconnect and refresh and knowing that A Special Wish took care of everything, the Hendersons relished every moment of their Special Wish.

Addison is just like any other girl. She loves the color pink, does gymnastics, show choir and basketball. She has never been defined by or felt held back because of her illness. About a year into treatment, she even competed in a youth triathlon. “Bald and beautiful, “as her Mom puts it, Addison continued being who she is despite battling a life-threatening illness. It is this determination and character that continues to define her and to inspire ASW and the community.

Now 9 and a third grader at Southdale Elementary, Addison was only recently able to stop her monthly cancer treatments. She is doing very well and has some muscle to rebuild, but her prognosis is good and the entire family is ready to get back to normal, buoyed by the start of spring.

Like so many other Wish families, the Hendersons are part of giving back. The school that Addison attends has a fund called the Southdale Strong Fund that was created to raise awareness of and support those in their community facing serious health issues. With help from the Henderson family, a group at Southdale has organized for the second year an event called the Southdale Strong 5K Festival being held on Friday, May 8. This year the proceeds will benefit the Dayton Chapter of A Special Wish Foundation, which has and continues to provide Special Wishes for many Southdale and Kettering children. This festival is scheduled starts at 5pm at Southdale Elementary in Kettering. There will be food trucks, raffles, vendors, a 5K and a free Fun Run for younger children. Learn more about this event at goodtimesraces.com or on the events page at aspecialwish.org.

The experience of the Hendersons is sadly not rare. Many children in the Dayton area receive a serious diagnosis of a life-threatening illness each and every year. ASW exists to provide hope, comfort and a stress-free way to regroup for these many families. Serving children from birth through age 20, A Special Wish remains the only local wish-granting organization in the Dayton region supported entirely by community support and through a partnership with Dayton Children’s Hospital. To learn more about the organization or to be a part of making Special Wishes come true, visit www.aspecialwish.org.

Susan Gnann is the marketing and development manager for the Dayton Chapter of A Special Wish Foundation.