One text changed everything.
“Not good news,” were the words that bubbled up on wish mom Michelle’s cell phone screen.
When 16-year-old Emily unexpectedly collapsed from what was first thought to be a seizure, her parents quickly whisked her away to the ER. With COVID restrictions, only one parent could enter the ER. Hopeful it wasn’t anything insidious, Michelle could only wait for news from her husband. Her heart sank as time past. Then her phone pinged again. She couldn’t believe what she read.
They would not be coming home anytime soon. Emily had leukemia.
The next few months were a rollercoaster. Michelle and Curt took turns spending days and nights in the hospital with Emily as she underwent chemotherapy. Then came more devastating news.
The traditional cancer chemotherapy treatments weren’t working.
Emily had a rare form of the disease and needed advanced T-cell treatments in another state, and ultimately a bone marrow transplant. Her identical twin sister shared the same DNA and although willing, would not have been a good donor. There was a 25 percent chance her other sibling could be a match. They hoped the odds would be on their side and this time they were.
“I still remember getting the call,” Michelle said. “I was laughing and crying at the same time.”
Emily’s older brother, Evan, was a perfect match.
In August, Emily received bone marrow from her brother, and he saved her life.
“I didn’t have to think about it,” said Evan. “I’m her brother. I had to do it.”
During that time, she endured grueling cancer treatment and had to spend extensive time away from friends and family as she was hospitalized.
As Emily lay in her hospital bed recovering, joy was hard to find. But she found glimmers of it while playing her trumpet. When her family realized she would have to spend so much time in the hospital, they packed things that would be meaningful to Emily. Her trumpet was one of the first things they put in the hospital bag.
When she was in the hospital, she would play her trumpet on the cancer care unit. The hospital had a room where she could play and continue to take lessons with her trumpet coach virtually.
“We thought people might be bothered by the noise, but they didn’t mind it,” Curt said.
When they found out Emily qualified for a wish, the family brainstormed with Emily all the things she might wish for.
“If you could wish for anything, what would it be?” they asked her.
Quickly an idea formed – one so grand they didn’t think it would be possible.
Her older brother Evan plays in the Oregon State University Marching Band. He’s currently a junior studying engineering.
“What if Emily can play with him?” was a thought that crossed their minds.
As soon as Emily and her mom told Evan about the idea, he was all in.
“I was flattered,” Evan said. “Then I got to work trying to make it happen. I wanted her to have a good time.”
Emily’s wish came true on a crisp fall day. In front of a crowd of twenty-six thousand screaming Oregon State football fans, Emily played alongside her brother and the Oregon State Marching Band.
She got to practice with the band in the stadium before the game, meeting the other 40 trumpet players.
She got to march with them through the university square and played a set for football fans on the steps of the campus coliseum. When it was gametime, she took center stage on the 50-yard line. Emily and Evan stood side by side at the front of the band formations and cheerleading squad and played their trumpets to kick off the game, and again during the half time show. During the game, they played pep music with the band in the stands.
It was a memory they will share for a lifetime.
“It was such a cool experience,” Evan said. “I want her to remember this day as a day she got to do something she might not otherwise get to do. A wish can be a lot of things, in this case, it’s something she can look back on years later and remember it as a good time.”
Emily’s wish is not only a memory she will have forever, but it’s a moment in time that meant a lot to so many other people.
“The experience of playing in a group this size, to a crowd of that size is a really special experience that most people don’t get to experience in their lives,” said Olin Hannum, director of athletics bands at Oregon State University. “I’m so glad we were able to make it happen!”
To the countless people who helped make Emily’s wish a reality, her family says thank you!
“Thank you for doing something so impactful. It means a lot to Emily and our family.”
It was a high point – and a high note.
“I see this as a new bearing – a new heading,” Curt said. “We’re past the scary stuff, and now the good stuff is coming.”