‘Big Fun’: My Make-A-Wish Birthday Party

Make-A-Wish is an organization that provides gift giving experiences for very sick children under 19. If a child has a dream, like becoming a superhero, Make-A-Wish will make that dream come true.

I was lucky enough to be a Make-A-Wish kid, but I could never settle for a wish. My family (my mother in particular) has always been so generous; I never wanted anything. Sure, we always scratched two nickels together, but my needs have always been met. Therefore, the only wishes I could make were for others.

Some of my requests: “Maybe you can renovate my mom’s room.” “My grandmother needs a bigger hospital bed.” “Can I bring everyone in my class to Disney World?”

I was everywhere. The Make-A-Wish consultant assigned to me was so kind and she had the difficult task of fine-tuning my requests.

“Wish is meant to be for you, honey! How about a special room or a trip for you?”

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After years of thinking, my consultant reminded me that my wish was about to expire. We had a long chat about my needs as a future high school grad, and at the last second I wished for something we could all enjoy: a massive “Sweet 18” birthday party.

My consultant asked me to describe my dream party, including the food, venue, theme, and anything else I could think of. I told him I wanted a local venue; that way my friends and family wouldn’t have to travel far. Naturally, I wanted a sort of theatrical aesthetic. I wanted a place where my guests could take pictures. I wanted a fast food style buffet with hot dogs, burgers and chicken.

Most importantly, I wanted to quietly thank the folks at Make-A-Wish and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF) for all of their hard work throughout my life. At the time, my illness was a secret to all but a few, so a large banner that read “Thank you, Make-A-Wish and CFF” wasn’t ideal.

They granted every request and more. They booked a local New Jersey venue called the Palace, and yes, it was as grand as you imagine. Theatrical masks, purple tables, 6-foot-tall feathers, and a purple carpet (instead of red, but functioning the same way) filled the space. The DJ had a playlist of all my favorite musicals, plus the top hits of 2011. The Make-A-Wish team even slid a little drawer under my table so I could easily access all my medicine from night.

It was the dream of a chronically ill teenager. When I walked into the Palace in my purple dress, my consultant asked me, “What do you think?

What did I think of it? ! It took all my self-control not to drool. I gave her a huge hug and thanked her again and again.

My 200 guests had the same jaw-dropping reaction as I did, and we spent the night dancing, playing games, taking photos, and enjoying the barbecue-style buffet in the backyard. Guests also went above and beyond for my request to wear a splash of purple, which was my secret nod to foundations.

Besides the obvious benefits of seeing my friends and family having fun and celebrating my birthday, I was grateful to finally feel like a teenager. That was the real wish Make-A-Wish fulfilled that night, a sense of normalcy. I didn’t have to leave the party early to take my sleeping pills or waste energy hiding my symptoms. My scars were strategically covered by my dress. More importantly, I didn’t feel like I was 18 on 80. I just felt like 18.

Make-A-Wish |  Cystic Fibrosis News Today |  Nicole wears a purple dress to celebrate her 18th birthday.  She is holding a microphone and reading a white paper in her hands in front of a cake with many candles.  Two women are seen at a table in the background.

Nicole Kohr at the Palace in Somerset, New Jersey, in 2011. (Courtesy of Nicole Kohr)

I only recently discovered my favorite teenage story, “Heathers,” a rock musical based on the 1989 film starring Winona Ryder. The moment I heard the song”Lots of fun“, I thought back to my Sweet 18 and smiled for hours. In the song, the main character attends her first high school party and is having the best time of her life. She drinks, gets high, dances and feels beautiful. Granted, I wasn’t wasted at my Sweet 18, but I was high on life. That’s for sure.

There is a series of lyrics from the song that make me laugh:

“Dreams come true/ When people laugh but not at you!/ I’m not alone!” I’m not scared!/ I feel like Bono at Live Aid!/ The house is ours/ It’s time to have fun!/ Have fun!

Words have never been so true! Maybe one day a nonprofit will grant the wishes of chronically ill adults over the age of 19. Would anyone like to attend my sweet 30th birthday party this winter and have fun?


To note: Cystic fibrosis news today is strictly a disease news and information site. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of anything you read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic fibrosis news today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about cystic fibrosis issues.

Joseph K. Bennett