As you might have gathered from our chronicles here, cancer sucks pretty much all the time.
There are moments, though, when living with cancer is less bad than usual. One of those times was last week, when Make-A-Wish made Trystian’s wish to meet Mickey Mouse come true with a trip to Disneyland.
I’m going to be honest: A trip doesn’t make everything all better, and you don’t really get to “take a break” from cancer while you’re there — Sarah and I were acutely aware of exactly why we were on an expenses-paid trip, and there were challenges with managing Trystian’s fatigue everyday — but the joy that being in the “Happiest Place on Earth” brought Trystian (and his brother, Joshua*) during what has been such a difficult year was absolutely priceless.
*We left Atticus at home, for reasons that I hope are obvious when dealing with a 15-month-old toddler. But he did get some awesome Mickey ears when we came back!
Here’s a rundown of each day, with galleries of some of our favorite photos.
Before the trip
We’ve written on the blog about some of the pre-Wish activities, but we haven’t yet written about this one and wanted to make sure to highlight it. About a week before the trip, Trystian’s wish granters Lou and Lori met us all at Red Robin (on Meridian and 168th in Puyallup) for dinner to officially present Trystian with his Wish.
Red Robin (which we’ve been told is an awesome partner of Make-A-Wish) really pulled out all the stops. When we arrived, there were balloons at the table and 50(!) Hot Wheels and a gift card — presents for Trystian from the Red Robin staff. And he absolutely loved the cars.
Dinner was flawless as the staff — led by our server, Eric, who is spectacular at his job — bent over backwards to serve us.
Lou then presented Trystian with his going away gifts, the highlight of which was his new Lightning McQueen backpack, filled with all sorts of necessities for the trip: Coloring books, sunscreen, snacks, etc.
With only a week to go, we were pretty excited.
Day One – Travel
As the black Yukon pulled up in front of our house, it didn’t take long to realize this was going to be a trip unlike any we had been on. A chauffeured ride to the airport? Yeah, that’s not a bad deal. Upon arrival at SeaTac, we were greeted by Lou and Lori, Trystian’s wish granters, and our own personal TSA agent.
Yes, you read that right.
Alaska Airlines — which was absolutely fabulous throughout, as you’ll soon see — checked our bags off to the side, after which time our TSA agent escorted us to the front of the security line. It happened so quickly that we were able to hit Wendy’s for some lunch before the flight. Trystian loved dancing to the live music and watching the planes take off and land from the atrium.
We made our way up to the gate, where we were boarded the plane before everyone else. Waiting for us was the captain’s first officer, who let the kids “fly” the plane for a little bit – complete with pushing a button that made a machine gun sound because who doesn’t want to fly a plane with a machine gun?
After taking our seats, we received a special visit from the captain, who bestowed a co-pilot’s hat on Trystian before getting on the intercom and informing the passengers that he had a very special co-pilot helping him make the trip to California. Everyone applauded as Trystian said, “Hey, that’s me!” On the flight, we were treated to whatever we wanted — and mom and dad might have had a well-deserved adult beverage.
On the ground, we picked up our bags, got our rental car, and drove to Disney’s Paradise Pier hotel. This was the kids’ reaction when they saw the view from the room:
It wasn’t actually Disneyland out there — it was California Adventure. Close enough.
We finished the night in the game room and then tried to get them to bed relatively early for the big first day at the park.
Day Two – Disney
The big day! We kicked it off with one of the special events of Trystian’s Wish – a character breakfast at Goofy’s Kitchen, where you get visited at your table by a handful of Disney characters. Very cool, and it was our first chance to celebrate Trystian’s first birthday.
Yep — Make-A-Wish, first time at Disneyland and birthday all on the same day.
Once inside, we made our way to as many rides as we could, aided by a wonderful little thing called a Guest Assistance Card. It’s sort of like a Disneyland Golden Ticket: Show it to any cast member and get escorted to the front of the line. Seriously.
Now, before you get all jealous, remember that there’s a legitimate reason for having it. In the hands of any of us, we’d probably go on every ride in the park three or four times. With Trystian? There were many rides we never made it to, and the only one we went on twice was Star Tours. See, in the hands of a family with a kid with cancer, that pass afforded us the greatest luxury of all: Going slowly around the park so as not to wear Trystian out, something that was a constant battle even as he rode around in a stroller.
Thank goodness for the Make-A-Wish Lounge. It’s a room where Wish families can go to rest, and it was absolutely huge for us to have a quiet, air conditioned place to hang out for an hour or so.
Recharged, we went back out for some more rides. The favorite ride of the day? Splash Mountain. Make sure you look at the photo in the slideshow. Even though you’d never guess it from their faces, they couldn’t stop talking about how fun it was after it was over. Trystian wanted to do all the big boy rides, including Space Mountain, and he was awesome.
Corn dogs for dinner. This would be a recurring theme.
After picking up our Mickey ears, we went over to California Adventure for the evening. We had avoided it in the morning mostly because we wanted to do Disneyland first but also because the park had hosted the world premiere of The Lone Ranger — complete with appearances by Johnny Depp and the rest of the cast — earlier in the day.
A few rides (including Soaring Over California, which Trystian loved) and a visit to the Ghirardelli ice cream shop later and the night was complete.
Well, not totally complete. I had to go back into Disneyland to retrieve Joshua’s light saber, which I had dropped on the Peter Pan ride earlier in the day. I stuck around to watch the fireworks show over Sleeping Beauty’s castle, which is always incredible. It did not disappoint.
The rest of the family watched the fireworks from the hotel room.
Day Three – Disney again!
Second (and final) day at the Disney parks. We started today at California Adventure, and Trystian was grumpy. His mood brightened considerably when we took him to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse show first thing. Appearances by Sophia The First and Doc McStuffins were cool, but the highlight was seeing Jake and the Neverland Pirates.
Caught him dancing! Sadly, I also caught him picking his nose. Oh well.
After a little more time at California Adventure, we walked back over to Disneyland for Trystian’s second big surprise:
Mickey and Minnie Mouse spent 30 minutes with us, doing whatever Trystian wanted. He started by shooting bubbles at them, then decided he wanted to play board games. So that’s what Mickey and Minnie did: They played Clue and checkers.
If you’ve never been to Disneyland, let’s just say it’s hard to get more than 60 seconds with Mickey or Minnie. It was very, very cool.
As you can see from the video, Joshua is a pretty awesome older brother. He let Trystian have his time with Mickey and Minnie, and that was representative of how amazingly patient he was on this trip. Yes, he got to go to Disneyland, so it’s not like he really could complain. But it’s not easy having a brother with cancer, even in Disneyland. Trystian can be moody, ranging from happy-go-lucky to combative to obstinate, and through it all, Joshua (mostly) rolls with it. We had to remind him a few times that this was Trystian’s trip and that meant that he wasn’t always going to get to do what he wanted, but in general, he was very gracious. I was proud of him.
Because of that, we made it a point to do some things that Joshua requested. While he enjoyed hanging out with Mickey and Minnie, he had heard you could fight Darth Vader with your light saber, and that is what he really wanted to do. I mean, really … why hang out with a couple of cartoon mice when you can wage war on the Dark Side? So, after visiting with the characters, we sat in on the Jedi Training, which came complete with an appearance by Luke’s father himself, and although Joshua didn’t get picked to fight Vader, he had a great time, leaving convinced that the reason he wasn’t picked is because he already was too awesome with his light saber and Vader was scared.
After stopping for a family photo in front of the big Mickey, we went back over to California Adventure to visit Cars Land. That was pretty awesome! We finished the night out at there before saying goodbye to Disney for good.
Day Four – Universal Studios Pool Day!
When Lou was talking about the trip with us, we knew were going to spend two days at Disneyland/California Adventure with a third day at another theme park. We ended up choosing Universal Studios.
Let’s just say it didn’t go well. It wasn’t anyone’s fault — it just so happened to appear that every tourist that wasn’t at Disneyland showed up at Universal Studios that day. It was a Monday, so I have no idea why that was, but the place was more crowded than Disneyland had been over the weekend, I think owing mostly to the fact that it’s comparatively small. The crush of people combined with not having the same privileges as we had at Disney — we had a “front of the line pass,” but it was the same pass that hundreds of other people had purchased, simply putting us in a shorter line for rides, but still a line — made it real rough for Trystian. It was at that point that we realized that the pass we had at Disney wasn’t just a luxury; it was a necessity for taking a kid with cancer to a theme park.
So, we just decided to bag it and head back to the hotel. It ended up working out great: The kids had been begging to go to the pool, so that’s where we spent the rest of the day before heading to Downtown Disney for Build-a-Bear — actually a dog and dinosaur — and dinner.
It was a bumpy start, but it actually was a wonderfully relaxing day when it was over. I remember thinking, before we left, “Really? Only two days at Disney?” But after doing it … yeah, two days was it. Having a third day where we ended up chilling by the pool was awesome, and we all enjoyed it.
Day Five – Shopping, the beach … then home
Final day. We tied up some loose ends with some shopping in the morning — souvenirs for the kids, us, and family members. Joshua got a Lego set, the other thing he really wanted (besides the light saber), while Trystian got a Mickey-themed Pirates of the Caribbean set.
Checked out of the hotel, and made our way to Huntington Beach. Trystian said he wanted to see the ocean, and the beach was only about 20 minutes away from the airport, so we made it our final stop.
It was amazing. Might have been the best decision of the trip, honestly. Our only regret was that we didn’t make it a priority to spend more time there — we really only got about 90 minutes to enjoy the sun and the waves before we had to head to catch our flight. But they were 90 glorious minutes! If we are being totally truthful, the beach might have been the most fun Trystian had during the whole trip. Simple kid, that one.
We hit In-N-Out on the way to the airport — because of course we did — and were once again totally thankful for having been flown into John Wayne Airport. The security line was comically short, and the trip back was a piece of cake, as Alaska Airlines once again made us feel like royalty.
Lou was waiting for us at SeaTac, bringing one last smile to Trystian’s face.
We are so thankful for the gift we have been given. It was an incredible time as a family. Yeah, it was emotional at times — as I mentioned earlier, it’s hard for a parent to forget that you’re there because your child has a potentially terminal disease — but we wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. Such a special time.
Thank you, Make-A-Wish — and your partners, Alaska Airlines, Disney and Red Robin — for making this happen for us. We’ll be doing whatever we can to pay it forward for other kids in need of a Wish to brighten their lives!
One last thing. If you haven’t already invested enough time on this post, here’s a video I made with the pictures and footage I shot on the trip. I hope you like it.