6-year-old Callen has always had a strong sense of adventure. When he was just a toddler, his family would often discover him in his room wedging cork boards between his mattress and box spring during what was supposed to be his nap time, trying to make a “diving board” to launch himself off of. Not even Callen’s diagnosis of leukemia in March 2014 could take away his drive to find the extraordinary in the ordinary and the adventure in just about anything. When wish granter volunteers met with Callen, he let his sense of adventure guide him in choosing his wish, and no one was surprised when he shared that his wish was to go surfing and zip-lining in Puerto Rico.
“Callen’s daring little spirit was just taking off when he got sick,” shares his mom, Katie. “For his wish, he kind of created his own adventure package of things he loved before the cancer took over and began dictating the things he had to do.”
Callen’s wish adventure started with a one-of-a-kind wish celebration at Macy’s for National Believe Day. Dozens of people lined the red carpet and cheered as Callen and his family learned his wish to go zip-lining and surfing in Puerto Rico would be granted in just a few short weeks. From the tropical decorations that adorned the store, to having a snack table full of some of Callen’s favorite foods, Macy’s staff ensured each detail of the wish reveal was perfect to help kick off Callen’s wish.
Once Callen arrived in Puerto Rico with his family, their worries immediately fell away and the focus was on soaking up every experience and making memories together. Callen kicked off the start of his trip with surfing lessons, and he was a total natural! With a little bit of help from his instructors, he was able to stand up on the board with ease. Callen challenged his adventurous side with a day of zip-lining, raced down water slides with his family and enjoyed building sandcastles with his sister during downtime at the beach.
“For our family, the highlight of the wish experience was having an opportunity to be together as a family in an environment that was completely removed from the rigors of treatment,” Katie says. “We were totally relaxed, 100 percent focused on having fun together and were not worried about rushing to an appointment or preparing for a procedure.”
Parents often report that the family unit, strained to the limit by the stresses of the illness, is repaired by the shared wish experience. Callen’s family found this to be true, especially for his big sister, Olivia. Throughout their time in Puerto Rico, Olivia and Callen were able to bond as siblings, and Olivia shed the caregiver role she adopted when her brother got sick. For Callen’s parents, seeing Callen and Olivia have fun together outside of the hospital playroom or clinic waiting room was priceless.
"When your child is going through treatment, every day you look for a little sliver of normalcy, something that resembles the life you had or the life you dreamt of having,” Katie says. “We were so grateful for the chance to take a giant step back from the existence that we were living, to become refreshed and undo the difficulties of the previous year and a half.”
The wish experience empowered Callen’s family with the hope and strength to continue on in Callen’s battle against leukemia. “Callen’s wish gave us the sense that there is a silver lining and that we could make it to that next happy moment. It was very invigorating,” Katie shares. “We now have these memories that can’t be changed or taken from us or distorted through the realities of what we are going through. The wish experience helped us hit pause for a few days and gave us the sense that nothing can take us down again.”