Unlike many children who dread the daily activity, school is Anthony’s favorite place. A lover of history in particular, Anthony’s love of school is clear to all those he speaks to, but when his eventual absences began distancing him from his classmates, he found another passion he could pursue on his own: gold panning. Historical and absolutely fascinating still in the modern day, Anthony had found something he could devote himself to. Not only could he learn about history and faraway places, but he could also take his own set of pans and do the exact same in his own creeks and water. Seen first with the airing of the television show Gold Rush on the Discovery channel, Anthony was immediately hooked. He wanted to take his homemade kit away from the local sifting spots near his home into the great Alaskan wilderness he had only witnessed on TV.
Anthony was a young, active boy with a multitude of interests that kept him constantly occupied. Yet, his teachers began to describe moments when Anthony would be asked a question or addressed and would only reply with silence. With glazed over eyes or simply staring off into the distance, Anthony would often on reply on a delay – if he replied at all. Anthony had no recognition of these worrying moment and Dana began to realize this wasn’t simply attention issues or an overabundance of energy. Fearing serious problems with Anthony’s brain, she knew it was time to get him professionally checked out – hoping through her fears that these red flags would be nothing but something Anthony would outgrow.
When Anthony was diagnosed with simple dyslexia, something didn’t sit quite right. Despite her ardent hope for a simple diagnosis that would free Anthony of medical worries, Dana knew that this easy answer was not the correct one. On her way out the door with her hand paused over the handle to leave and an overwhelming fear that if she left now it would be without answers – Dana stopped and did not leave that day until she had secured him a brain scan. While she knew that the doctors were working with what they knew, she felt as though there had to be something more hiding. She had to be absolutely sure. His scans would either be clean and she could chalk it all up to a mother’s worry or they would prove that she was right and there was more to this. Either way, soon she would have a concrete answer.
When Anthony’s one-hour scan stretched into four, and the doctors presented Dana with the diagnosis, she knew was right to trust her gut from the beginning: not only did Anthony have a deep brain tumor, but he had hydrocephalus. Anthony would have to go into surgery immediately to drain the dangerous amount of fluid in his brain. What had started as a checkup born of worry, transformed into a search for answers and finally a whirlwind of diagnoses, treatments and follow-up.
Anthony and his mother barely had time to breathe or even process what was happening to them as surgery after surgery consumed their lives. Between the tumor removal and the repeated draining of the fluid in his brain, his medical treatments seemed endless. The days became endless cycles of in-hospital and out-of-hospital. Even when home, Dana was constantly searching for the signs of hydrocephalus that she had been warned to look for and more often than not, she ended up finding them, feeling as though she was just dragging her child back for more terror when all she wanted was for him to be healthy again. One moment home, the next back in the hospital; he was once taken back in only a day after a surgery for an infection in his incision. It seemed like they couldn’t escape. Despite it all, the fear of the damage lurking deep in Anthony’s brain reminded her that what they were doing was saving him – even if it seemed like all she was doing was hurting him.
Some days she only felt trapped in a parent’s worst nightmare and soon the fears of his brain tumor surface again. He would have to go back into surgery, not for fluid draining this time, but to remove the tumor that was growing much faster than expected. When Anthony emerged from his removal surgery, he left the operating room not only blind, but unable to walk or talk at all. Anthony had to communicate through squeezing his mother’s hand – she was his only lifeline for contact and communication. And there was nothing she could do but slowly watch him recover on his own with time. Anthony’s dreams and passions seemed farther and farther away with every dragging year of treatments.
Anthony’s mom pursued Make-A-Wish®, hoping to bring some joy back into his life that had become so trapped with hospitals, surgeries and medical treatment. After so much misfortune, Anthony could hardly believe the chance he was being offered when his wish was approved. He looked continuously to his mother during the initial meeting as though waiting for her to tell him it was all a joke and even when he asked for his wish he gave the wish granter a way out, not really believing she could truly make his dream come true.
You see, Anthony knew exactly what he wanted – to see that shimmer of gold in pans he had only ever seen on TV. He thought he’d asked the impossible of Make-A-Wish.
However, Anthony soon learned that nothing is impossible with Make-A-Wish and at his wish sendoff party, his wish granters revealed that Anthony and his family would not only get to participate in gold panning, but dog sledding, sightseeing, staying in cabins, going on boat trips on the ocean and so much more than they could have imagined.
Anthony’s early medical treatments and the constant pain and fear that he had to go through over the years resulted in an additional diagnosis for him: PTSD. He feared planes, boats, and most of all the unknown. The trip seemed like it would only be more fear for Anthony, so much involving his own fears. However, for the first time he was unable to be stopped by his illness, and Anthony wouldn’t let his own fears stop him either. He repeated to himself on boarding the first plane “- you can do this. You can do this.” Everyone on the trip took Anthony under their wing from the pilot of the plane he so feared to the champion of the dog-sledding Iditarod. There was no time for fear when Anthony was living out his dreams come to life – and he had help every step of the way! Even the guide of his gold panning tour that took him on a tour with a high powered sluice no questions asked and secured them a secluded spot where no one had panned in years – resulting in the surprise of actual gold glittering at the bottom of Anthony’s sluice! With so much fear behind him, the experience was a chance for Anthony to see something other than more fear ahead of him. “It’s a chance for them to not only live, but feel alive,” Anthony’s mom explains. Dana had to watch Anthony slowly lose hope over the years drenched in fear, and here she could see him come alive again – and even find hope.
The wish experience wasn’t a cure for Anthony – with a new tumor found in his brain, his medical treatments are only continuing. “It’s not about the wish but the experience,” Dana explains. It shows them that life “doesn’t always have to be so hard.” With years of nothing but hard times for Anthony, the journey put a sense of life back into Anthony that his mom hadn’t seen in years. He told her during the trip that “I feel like I can breathe easier.” With the constant fear of illness looming, such calm and contentment can be extremely difficult to grasp. No longer stuck in the constant loop of hospital and non-hospital days, Anthony saw a world beyond the fear. Anthony carries the magic and peace from his experience into his continuing treatments today. Knowing that life goes on outside of his hospital walls, that there is a whole world out there he still has to explore – he can dream of one day, after pushing through these hard times, he will be able to see them under his own power. Despite his continuing treatments, Anthony has the shining inspiration of not only his self-discovered gold he keeps on hand – but perfect contentment of his memories amongst the peace of Alaska’s wildlife, mountains, and dreams come true.