LARGO-It was just a fever, but Mark’s doctor couldn’t figure out what was causing it. After about three days, his mother Pamela took him to the hospital hoping for answers to her four-year-old son’s mysterious ailment. What the physician found was Wilm’s tumor, a childhood cancer of the kidneys. “When they found the tumor, it was the size of a softball,” Pamela said. “When they removed it four days later, it had grown to the size of a football.” To make matter worse, the tumor had attached to Mark’s diaphragm and the cancer had spread to both lungs. He had to have his left kidney removed and go through chemotherapy and radiation.
Pamela hopes the worst is behind her son, but the doctors won’t be sure for almost 5 years. Knowing all that Mark has suffered through, a social worker at the Pediatric Cancer Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital referred him to Kids Wish Network, a charity that grants wishes for children with life threatening illnesses. Soon Wish Coordinator Madeline Robinson was full steam ahead with Mark’s wish of going on a Disney cruise. “We’ve been taking him to Disney World since he was an infant,” said Pamela about Mark’s love of Mickey Mouse. “We’ve had friends who have been on the cruise and he’s seen the ships; we’ve talked about Mickey’s big boat. He really wanted to go.”
And then the big day arrived: Mark and his family boarded a ship bound for Nassau and for Disney’s own private island. “He had such a good time,” Pamela said. “There were so many activities and things for the kids to do.” The ship had computers, coloring, a theatre just for kids, Disney characters, and pools, just to name a few. “They gave the kids cups so they could continuously fill their own soda,” Pamela said. She said there seemed to be an endless supply of pizza and other kid favorite food. “He just kept on eating and eating,” she said. Mark only weighs 40 lbs right now because of all the medical treatments, so she was thrilled he had a hearty appetite.
Mark was very impressed with Disney’s private island as well. Pamela described it as a big beach party with snorkeling, biking, and a big barbeque. Although the weather was gorgeous the day the ship docked in Nassau, Mark and his family never ventured off the ocean liner. “We just couldn’t get him to leave the Mickey pool,” Pamela said. Instead, Mark just wanted to slide down from the second deck into the kids-only pool and hang out with his new friend, Tyrone. “He can be shy, but he just talked to everyone on the boat, he was having such a good time,” Pamela said.
But the person he wanted to talk to the most was the man in charge, Captain Tom. “Mark was just fascinated by Captain Tom and the fact that he steered the ship,” Pamela said. And he got to spend some time with both Captain Tom and Captain Mickey in a special meet and greet. “He’s only four, but he told us he doesn’t think Captain Mickey really steers the ship,” said Pamela laughing.
“It was wonderful, he had such a wonderful time,” said Pamela of Mark’s experience. “He cried when it was over, he didn’t want to leave.” Pamela’s favorite memory of the trip was watching Mark interact with the Captain of the ship, but when she asked Mark what stood out in his mind, he had a little trouble. “He said, ‘Please don’t make me decide Mama, I liked everything.’”
Kids Wish Network would like to graciously thank Disney Cruise Lines for offering Mark and his family a cruise at a discounted rate.
Kids Wish Network is a nationally recognized non-profit organization whose mission is to grant wishes to children who have life-threatening illnesses. If you know a child between the ages of 3 and 18 who may be in need of their wish granting services, please call (813) 891-9374 or toll free at (888) 918-9004. You can also visit its web site at www.kidswishnetwork.org.