Emily Inzunza of Los Banos suffers from cancer. For her Make-A-Wish request, she wanted to go to Japan. But the coronavirus has put those plans on hold. Image via Make-A-Wish

published on May 22, 2020 - 1:43 PM
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When Emily Inzunza found out she had leukemia at age 9, her first concern was her father — whose mother had passed away from cancer.

“She didn’t want anyone to say the word ‘cancer,’” explained Susana Preciado, Emily’s mother. “Because she wasn’t thinking of herself—she was thinking: ‘I don’t want to scare my dad. I don’t want him to think I’m going to die.’”

Emily started her journey in 2018, going through three rounds of chemotherapy a week and losing her hair. Now, nearly two years later, these are down to one per month. At age 10, she’s been in remission for a year and looks forward to ringing the bell next February to mark the end of her treatments. Emily’s fight rallied her family and neighborhood in Los Banos, but it also caught the attention of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, who surprised her with the news she’d have her greatest wish granted.  

More than anything, Emily has always wanted to go to Japan. Her introduction to the Japanese came from uncle showing her Pokemon, and from there, she was became fascinated by the country and its people.

“The food, the culture, how they dress up, their language,” Emily explained, listing all the things she loved about them.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus has put her trip on hold for the time being. 

In the 40 years since its founding, Make-A-Wish has granted thousands of wishes for children with cancer and other severe health issues. For the children and their families, it’s a welcome break from the painful and tedious regimen of surgeries and treatments. But perhaps more importantly, Kathleen Price, regional vice president for Central California, says a wish is a life-affirming experience that builds stronger family bonds and gives children the will to keep fighting. 

For context, Price says the majority of their recommendations come from Valley Children’s Healthcare. The doctors there, she explained, have told her that the wishes help keep their patients alive, and make them more compliant on their journeys. They even mark these wishes a turning point in recovery. She says they’ve even had cases where children rebounded when they were previously diagnosed as terminal.

“That’s what wishes do,” Price said. “We’re giving them something to look forward to, something to hope for — and joy, really, when they need it the most.”

But COVID-19 has put a freeze on travel for Make-A-Wish kids worldwide. For Make-A-Wish Northeastern & Central California and Northern Nevada, it’s put about 200 wishes on hold for the foreseeable future — or 75% of the requests they’ve received.

Kaleb Perry of Kingsburg had something other than a trip on his mind. Now three years old, Kaleb was born with Prune Belly Syndrome, a condition that affects only one in 40,000 children. This means that he has no abdominal muscles, resulting in (among other things) kidney trouble — it also means that surgery has been a part of his life since before his birth. 

Kaleb got a new lease on life last year when a stranger from Fresno donated a kidney, but he’ll likely have an uphill battle for the rest of his life. His request from the Make-A-Wish Foundation is a fairly simple one — a tree house for him and his older brother.

This is a wish the organization is able to grant even now, but concerns have risen from Kaleb having a poor immune system. There’s always the possibility that the people building the tree house could expose Kaleb to the coronavirus. Coughing requires extensive use of one’s abdominal muscles and a severe cold could be life threatening for him. The project can’t take off until the virus passes, but according to Mandy Perry, Kaleb’s mother, he’s been patient throughout the situation. She’s also said she completely understands the situation Make-A-Wish has found itself in. Meanwhile, she says Kaleb occasionally gets somewhat anxious, but her son has handled it well.

“He is young, but he still remembers that he’s going to get a tree house and he’ll ask about it every once and a while,” Mandy said. “But we just explain to him that now is not our time and we have to wait our turn and be patient. And so he does pretty good with accepting that.”

Likewise, Emily Inzunza is looking on the bright side of the situation. For her, there’s a silver lining in waiting until next year since she’ll finally be done with her chemotherapy and she won’t have to worry about it while exploring Tokyo. Instead, her trip will be a celebration. 

“I understand — this is a huge deal, so they all want us to be safe,” Emily said. “And I’m not mad or anything, I just have to wait really long, but at least I’m still going to Japan.”

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