Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Annie Mason hated telling her 7-year-old daughter Dorothy the trip of her dreams was called off because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Las Cruces first grader, who has a rare form of childhood leukemia, was looking forward to a journey next month to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, a wish that was going to be granted by Make-a-Wish New Mexico.
“How do you tell a child you’re not going to be able to go on the trip, especially after you’ve told them, ‘You can’t go to school because it’s not safe; you can’t go to church because it’s not safe; you can’t do things on Easter because it’s not safe?’ “, asked Mason, an attorney with the federal judiciary. “Children like Dot (Dorothy’s nickname) expect a lot of delays in having their needs and their desires met.”
The COVID-19 outbreak is robbing several New Mexico kids like Dot of their wishes, although the nonprofit behind them is hoping to reschedule them once the danger has passed.
Sarah Lister, president and CEO of Make-a-Wish New Mexico, said 12 trips planned by the organization have been postponed, and more could be added to the list.
Trips through the end of April have been called off. Lister anticipates trips planned through May will be, too.
“We know it’s hard on the families,” she said. “It’s hard on our staff, too. If any kids deserve to have their wishes come true, it’s these kids, and it’s exciting for our staff to plan these wishes.”
Among the wishes postponed is a trip to Disney World for energetic 3-year-old Areyah “Rey Rey” Bencomo of Albuquerque.
“He loves Spider-Man. He’s into superheroes and used to like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” Nallely Bencomo said of her son, who was diagnosed with a form of liver cancer when he was 17 months old. “It’s kind of sad the trip got postponed. We were almost ready to go. We were going to be there over Easter.”
But she and Mason understand why the wishes are being delayed. Their children are among the most vulnerable to the coronavirus.
“It’s tough,” Bencomo said. “My oldest son (10-year-old Adahya) also has asthma. They can’t understand why they can’t go out and play.”
“They made the right call,” Mason said.
Dot took the news pretty well, even using a little humor to tell her mom so. She told her mother she would be able to make the trip “in the next 40 years.”
“She’s developing grit from what she’s gone through,” Mason said.
It’s part of the struggle Dot has gone through since receiving her leukemia diagnosis when she was in kindergarten. The type she has is an aggressive kind “that would kill a child in months” without treatment, her mother said.
“We are blessed that I have a stable job with good insurance,” Mason said. Her husband, Matt, is a stay-at-home dad. And Dot has a 5-year-old sister, Kathleen.
Dot has had to endure treatments that kept her out of school and away from church and other activities for months even before school and other activities were canceled statewide because of the coronavirus.
She’s had to take chemotherapy orally at home and through ports in her chest and spine. Dot also has to take a high dose of steroids. Her mother said there are still months of treatment to go.
A family member gave Dot audio books of the J.K. Rowling “Harry Potter” novels to help her cope with long trips from Las Cruces to El Paso Children’s Hospital, where she is undergoing treatment.
Mason said she was reluctant to expose her daughter to books about witchcraft and wizardry when she’s so young. But she said the books have been a form of escape for Dot, who has had to endure bouts of hunger, nausea and pain during the trips.
She said her daughter strongly identifies with Harry Potter and “was extremely excited to find out there was a place (like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter).”
Rey Rey has also had to endure several challenges in his short life. His liver cancer was diagnosed after he came down with what seemed like stomach flu. His stomach started to swell with a tumor the size of a baseball, his mother said.
“He had to have chemo for nine months,” Bencomo said. “He’s been in remission for a year.”
But Rey Rey still has to be evaluated every few months, which includes CT scans and ultrasounds.
“He is a really energetic boy,” his mother said. “He has the energy of the world, and that energy has started to come back.”
But she says he has hearing loss “because of the chemotherapy.”
“When he was first diagnosed, he was in the hospital 24/7,” Bencomo said. She said it was devastating to her and her husband, Adan. “It was pretty rough. … It seemed like it was endless.”
Lister said wishes for Dot and Rey Rey will be put back on the schedule as soon as possible, but she concedes that the time is uncertain because of the outbreak.
While many wishes are trips like the ones that are planned for Dot and Rey Rey, Lister said there were other wishes that had to be put off for children – such as makeovers for bedrooms and the installation of videogaming systems.
“With the governor issuing stay-at-home orders, we’re not going to be going into a child’s home,” she said.
Lister hopes people will consider donating to the organization at www.newmexico.wish.org. She said fundraisers – like the wishes – are having to be rescheduled.
“Many of our fundraisers are normally in the spring or summer and include large gatherings,” Lister said. “We want to be ready to go with the wishes as soon as we are able. And the donations would help us do that.”