This is a guest post from Allison Laypath, a writer and cancer mom who lives with her husband and two children near Salt Lake City, Utah. She writes the blog Living With Burkitt's, which documents her son's battle with cancer. She is also the founder and co-writer of the family travel blog Tips for Family Trips.
How would your family like to visit a place that celebrates Christmas and Halloween every week? Would you like ice cream sundaes with extra whipped cream for breakfast? What about VIP passes to Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort? What if all of this cost you nothing?
For children with life-threatening illnesses and their families, Give Kids the World Village in Kissimmee, Florida, makes this dream vacation a reality. Every year, more than 7,000 children visit Walt Disney World and other Orlando attractions with their families through Make-A-Wish or other organizations. Give Kids the World hosts nearly all of them.
Make-A-Wish partners with Give Kids the World to provide lodging, transportation, meals, theme-park tickets, gifts, on-site entertainment, and ice cream for breakfast (!) at no cost to the wish family. Wish families choose their travel dates and Make-A-Wish works with Give Kids the World to plan the rest.
In 2013, my family had the opportunity to spend a week at Give Kids the World after my 6-year-old son Andrew completed treatment for Burkitt's Lymphoma, a rare and aggressive cancer. A year earlier, he had been a healthy boy, excited to start kindergarten. In November 2012, he collapsed at school with stomach pain that led to two surgeries, weeks in the hospital, and the diagnosis that every parent dreads.
Cancer was life-altering for our whole family. I dropped everything to be a full-time cancer mom, my husband struggled to focus at work, and our then 8-year-old daughter Madeline often felt forgotten during six months of intense chemotherapy and frequent hospital stays. When Make-A-Wish granted Andrew's wish to go to Disney World, it was a victory celebration for all of us.
At Give Kids the World, gifts for both Andrew and Madeline were delivered daily to our private two-bedroom villa. (That's our villa in the photo, where the cheerful sign was just one of many ways we felt welcomed.) We often left Disney World early so we wouldn't miss celebrity meet-and-greets by the pool, photo ops with Mickey Mouse, pony rides, or a life-sized game of Candy Land. Everything at Give Kids the World--from the playground to the pool--was built to accommodate wheelchairs and other special needs.
The best part about Give Kids the World was that everyone there understood what we had been through and they celebrated with us. Every family at Give Kids the World has a child with cancer, heart disease, or other serious illness. For most, Give Kids the World is a brief escape from a life of doctors, hospitals, procedures, and astronomical medical expenses.
Give Kids the World Village hosts these families the help of generous donors and volunteers. Everywhere at the resort, smiling volunteers serve food, entertain guests, and assist in other ways every day. We felt blessed by their kindness, and we hope to return to Orlando to give back to Give Kids the World as volunteers. (Anyone over age 12 can volunteer as part of an Orlando vacation or on a long-term basis.)
Was the Make-A-Wish experience at Disney World wonderful? You bet. As wonderful as it was, though, the overflowing spirit of support and generosity we found at Give Kids the World Village was even better.
Andrew is a healthy 7-year-old today. His cancer has been in remission for over one year and he has no lasting complications. Andrew enjoys school, friends, and LEGOs, and is learning to play basketball.