Making Wishes Come True for Terminally Ill Adults

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By Debra Wood, RN, contributor

Terminally ill patients often open up and share with nurses their feelings, fears and unfulfilled dreams. A simple telephone call to a loved one may be all that’s needed to fulfill an unmet goal. But for those aspirations requiring more intervention, nurses can turn to organizations devoted to granting wishes to terminally ill adults.

“What we do gives a cancer patient some place to go to at the end,” said Jan Stanton, founder of the Celebrate Your Life Foundation in Port Angeles, Washington. “It’s a painful place to be. We can give them a place to retreat to, so they have memories of the good times.”

Most patients requesting a wish seek to go somewhere special with their families and have fun together. But one woman wanted someone to keep her home clean. A man wanted to go to a NASCAR race. Celebrate Your Life granted both requests, arranging for a maid service and for pit and garage passes at a NASCAR race. The man also met his favorite driver Dale Jarrett. 

Stanton recommends people apply for their wish as soon as they know their prognosis and have a desire to go somewhere or achieve something. Some wishes take time to set up.

A breast cancer survivor, Stanton formed Celebrate Your Life after undergoing treatment. She feared she wouldn’t make it and thought about what she would want to do if the end of her life was near. Not finding organizations that grant wishes to adults, she and her friends decided to form the foundation, at first limiting it to people in their town.

Once the foundation began granting wishes nationwide, requests soon outpaced donations and the organization temporarily has limited wish making to Washington-state residents. The nonprofit organization and others like it, depend on contributions from individuals and corporations.

The Dream Foundation, Santa Barbara, began granting wishes to adults 12 years ago and relies on donated airline miles and other noncash donations. It grants travel but also has arranged to have a small meditation pond built in a dying patient’s backyard and to enable a local photographer to show her works in an exhibition at a hotel.

“What we do is hope,” said Jackie Waddill, program director of the Dream Foundation. “When medicine can no longer can make that difference, when medicine is no longer going to give a cure, we can help. We help manifest amazing things.”

Waddill said many wishes involve reuniting family members or keeping a promise to a child for a family trip, often to Walt Disney World.

“They want to be remembered laughing with their kids,” Waddill said. “They want that picture of them riding Dumbo with their child on the mantle when they are gone.”

Hospice nurses often refer patients to the Dream Foundation, after patients confide such goals to their nurses. They also call on the Fairygodmother Foundation in Chicago.

“Nurses, whether working in hospice or as visiting nurses or in the hospital, have a secret underground for finding out what their patients need,” said Stevie Ball, CEO of the Fairygodmother Foundation. “Then they take care of business.”

Nurses may request an application from Fairygodmother, but patients must apply for a wish themselves. All three organizations require confirmation of the prognosis by the patient’s doctor.

Donors frequently underwrite specific wishes at Fairygodmother. The organization sends a disposable camera to recipients to help them document the wish event.

Now healthy and surviving the disease, Stanton finds joy in bringing other people’s wishes to life.

“We get wonderful phone calls from excited people,” Stanton said. “It’s good to hear how it went.”

Waddill finds it challenging and emotionally uplifting. She said every day is like Christmas, with wish recipients receiving special and personal gifts.

“We give hope and promise and magic,” Waddill said. “Dreams are wishes the heart makes.”

For more information or to download an application:

Celebrate Your Life Foundation.

Dream Foundation.

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