For Jenna, a 15 year-old high school student with brain cancer, it was clear...she wanted to "Give Hope".
Not only is Jenna special because she is the 4000th wish recipient for Make-A-Wish Colorado, but also because her wish was to give back. Jenna’s wish was to help other children going through cancer; to give them hope, to let them know they aren’t alone... that they, too, can make it through this journey. Her wish took the shape of a book, God’s Got This: Adventures in Hope.
Jenna arrives at the Colorado Make-A-Wish Office.
Jenna is surprised with the announcement that she is their 4000th wish recipient.
Jenna was diagnosed with a cancerous, inoperable brain tumor in August 2012. An avid journaler all her life, Jenna continued to journal through her long days of chemotherapy, hospitalizations, and radiation – writing in as many as 16 journals at any one time! Despite her diagnosis, Jenna had dreams for her life, one of which was to become a writer and author.
Jenna journaling at home in one of her cozy spots on the family room sofa.
Jenna's journals, gifts from family & friends, gave her an outlet for her thoughts, fears and dreams.
It should have been no surprise that when Make-A-Wish Colorado asked her to make a wish, Jenna said she wanted to write and publish a book to give hope to other children with cancer. The idea came to life one day as Jenna and her mother, Johanna, were on one of their “adventures” together to the top of Pike’s Peak. Driving up the steep and twisting roads, Jenna likened the sometimes scary ride with her journey through her illness. Atop the mountain, and overwhelmed with the incredible view, she had a deep knowing that she was going to make it though this journey with cancer, stronger and with an even deeper faith.
Jenna returns to Pike's Peak this summer where she views the long and winding road that she likened to her journey with cancer.
When Jenna got word that her wish would be granted, she began sorting through her journal entries. Day after day, Jenna sat on her parent’s bed, combing through her writings and combining entries into themes, while her mom typed up the selected pieces into what would soon become a draft of the book. When Jenna would feel down during her illness, with treatments, changing body image and separation from friends, her mom would exclaim, “But Jenna, you get to write a book! You’re going to be an author!” And just that reminder would change her whole mood and perspective. Through countless days, the thought of her wish coming to fruition gave Jenna the hope to keep going and be strong.
Jenna starts to compile her book by reviewing her journal entries and sorting them by themes.
Jenna's mom, Johanna, types up the entries and the draft of Jenna's book takes shape.
The book is written as part memoir and part workbook, and Jenna writes honestly and insightfully about her adventures, emotions and support from family, friends and community while inviting readers to share their experiences alongside her.
Jenna is at the printers and is able to proof the cover's final colors before the first run is printed.
Jenna is struck with emotion as the first pages of her book come off the printing press - her wish becoming a reality.
Jenna and her mom hold the pages in their hands for the first time. Jenna is overwhelmed at seeing her words in print.
Her wish was granted June 4th at a celebratory Book Release party attended by 170 family members and friends.
Jenna enjoys a ride in style to the party with her family - a surprise limousine provided by Make-A-Wish.
Surrounded by colorful decorations and butterflies, Joan Mazak, President of Make A Wish Colorado, presented Jenna with a special plaque, honoring her as the 4000th wish recipient. Introduced by her parents, Jenna - now cancer free - spoke about how she would choose to remember cancer and then read an excerpt from her book. There was not a dry eye in the crowd as they rose, giving her a standing ovation.
Jenna's parents, full of pride, introduce Jenna. Mom exclaims, "I can't believe we raised you!".
Jenna talks about her wish to give hope to others, then reads an excerpt from her book. She was poised - the audience less so, unable to hold back the tears.
Jenna’s wish granted by Make-A-Wish Colorado will carry hope to other children experiencing cancer in ways no one can imagine right now. Jenna wants to bring this wish forward, publishing more copies of the book and getting it into the hands of everyone who wants it, regardless of ability to pay. She has dreams that a portion of any proceeds would be used to help fund childhood brain cancer research. And knowing Jenna, this idea will also take flight and become a reality.
Jenna's wish to give hope to others is limitless in its capacity to bring not only hope, but joy as well.
My job was to spend time with Jenna and her family, and document her story through images for Make-A-Wish Colorado. While my role was to serve, as I so often find, I am the one at the receiving end. Day after day, as Jenna shared her experiences, thoughts, reactions, and decisions with me, I was inspired beyond comprehension. I marveled at her wisdom, faith, trust and love. I was not shy in soaking up so much of her positive nature that she inevitably shared. I was privileged to witness the most profound embodiment of love that I have ever seen in someone of her young age. And I would like to claim that some how, in some way, I am a better person for having met Jenna and her family, and am incredibly grateful for this opportunity. By the way, "Yes, Johanna, I can believe you and Jeff raised this daughter!".
Jenna has agreed to write a guest blog on my website sometime in the near future. Please comment and let us know what you think of her story, and what you might like to hear more about from her in her own words.