By Julia Benbenek, Wish sibling
Siblings tend to have a special bond that revolves around laughs and “shhhh” when mom and dad come around. Constant happy screams, laughter and running around was always guaranteed once you walked into our house. Until one day things changed in our household. The laughs suddenly were rarely heard and everything became still.
Cancer is not an easy topic for anyone to understand, especially for kids. I was 3 and my sister, Carlie, was 7 when our older brother, Andrew, was 9 and diagnosed with medulloblastoma. We didn’t know much besides the fact that mom, dad and Andrew were never home so Grandma and Grandpa practically moved in to take care of us. We never quite understood the seriousness of Andrew’s illness but we were always pleasantly surprised when others would bring us gifts or cards that students made at school for Andrew, but the best surprise was the one that we never expected.
Andrew was eligible for a wish from Make-A-Wish and my family immediately became on board with the opportunity and organization. At the time he loved Nintendo, Pokémon, and star wars and had several different games he truly enjoyed playing. So soon enough the wish for a fort in our backyard became Andrew’s wish. He chose the fort so it could serve as a little escape where he could play his games and hang out with friends and family.
The crew truly went above and beyond for Andrew’s fort. The inside included a TV, a PlayStation, a controller, games, a cooler, fun rocking chairs, and snacks that every young boy loved. The outside was also incredible since it contained a rock wall, swings, a ladder and stairs leading to a second level lookout. The fort became the hangout spot for all the kids in the neighborhood as well as all of Andrew’s other friends. Days and nights were spent in “Fort Benbenek” with laughs, thankfulness and relief that Andrew had beat cancer. It was everything a young boy could have dreamed of.
Well, 16 years later and the fort is still standing in our backyard with all the bells and whistles still attached. Andrew is doing well and has remained cancer free for those 16 years. He still loves the outdoors just as much as he did when he was younger and I honestly think that Make-A-Wish had a lot to do with it. The fort forced him to be outside after he had been in a hospital bed for weeks and months. It truly helped make up for lost time of his childhood in addition to playing an important role on our family.
Andrew’s illness wasn’t anything that anyone could have prepared us for. Some days we are caught thinking, why did this happen to us but on most we believe that everything happens for a reason and this happened to us because we were made to handle it and overcome it as a family. I am now 19 years old, a student at Ithaca College and a PR/communications intern at Make-A-Wish. Having the opportunity to be a part of this team has made me realize everything that I missed in Andrew’s wish process since I was so young. The power of a wish is truly inspiring, heartwarming and touching. Each wish is designed to fit each wish kid strictly to their likings and personality. My favorite part of the wish is the impact that it leaves on not only the wish kid but also their families, friends, the community and the Make-A-Wish crew. When I came in for an interview, they recognized my last name and remembered my brother and his wish. In those moments I realized how special this organization is and how incredibly lucky my family is.