Three simple words traditionally used as a person faces a cake lit with candles to celebrate their birth, “Make a Wish.”
These same three words became the name of a non-profit foundation in 1980. Since that time the Make a Wish Foundation has scattered pixie dust on the lives of over 250,000 children and their families.
“We do not say that we are granting wishes to children with ‘terminal illnesses,’” Victoria Krippner, Regional Development Manager shared. “We grant wishes to children with life threatening illnesses.”
Proof positive that recipients are far from terminal, might be seen in the face of seven-year-old Magnolia Elementary student Alivia Antinetti or ‘Liv’ as she prefers to be called.
Liv, along with her parents Dave and Rachelle and siblings Carlo and Dominic, were treated to a Make a Wish trip in late spring of 2010.
Mom, Rachelle, describes the family’s first class vacation to Disney World and varying other Orlando attractions as the “trip of a lifetime … First class all the way.”
As a result of their gratitude and in the true spirit of ‘paying it forward,’ Liv and her brothers will be hosting a lemonade stand as a fundraising endeavor for the Make A Wish Foundation. Mom, dad and a small army of friends will help the youngsters as they work at achieving their goal of raising $5,000 to help another family live their dream.
The inaugural event will be hosted on Sunday, May 29 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Oakdale’s River Avenue Park. As a fundraising event the family has decided not to establish a per cup price. Instead for each donation a visitor will receive a complimentary cup of lemonade.
“Initially they just wanted to have a lemonade stand,” Rachelle said of her three children. “Just to have one. They thought the idea of it sounded fun.
“So when I asked them what they wanted to do with the money, they really weren’t sure.”
Rachelle explained that as the young crew learned they could actually earn money, they decided they wanted to give it to someone. As the conversation and brainstorming progressed, all three felt Make A Wish would be a great place to donate the money.
In actuality, the excitement and symbolism behind the ‘Liv, Bros & Co.’ Lemonade Stand serves as a tremendous opportunity for community members, family and friends to help celebrate the triumph of a family whose life was the polar opposite of this 18 short months ago.
The Tummy Ache
During the summer of 2009 Liv was anxiously counting down the days until she started kindergarten at Magnolia Elementary School and older brother Dominic was equally excited to enter first grade. Carlo was preparing to start his first year at the Learning Tree Pre-School.
If she could just get past the tummy ache she kept experiencing and the fever that kept creeping up, everything would have just been perfect.
On her first day of school, mom and dad escorted Liv to class and took the ceremonial first day of school photos. When Rachelle returned home, she called the family doctor and requested an appointment for the next day.
“I just knew something was not right,” Rachelle shared.
“You could see it in her eyes,” Dave said. “She had been so excited on the days leading up to that and then when we got there, her energy was different.”
The following day the family was seen by their family pediatrician. A thorough exam was given, and additional tests ordered. That same night they were directed to pack some things and take their daughter to California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. Within 48 hours of beginning her first day of kindergarten, the Antinettis learned that their five-year-old daughter had a Wilms’ Tumor or nephroblastoma, which is cancer of the kidney.
By the end of August, the kindergartner had her right kidney removed, which was encapsulated by a two and one half pound tumor, had a port (her ‘button’) inserted and began her radiation and chemotherapy treatments. All totaled, Liv underwent 10 days of radiation and 32 weeks of chemotherapy.
By September of 2009 the Antinetti family would need to learn to live a new ‘normal.’
Following Liv’s surgery, the family was told they were fortunate to have recognized the signs and that they ‘caught it early.’
Still puzzled by the conversation almost two years later Dave shared, “What were the signs? She had a tummy ache and a fever. She’s a kid.”
Sparing no chances and taking no risk, the family exercised all precautions while Liv was undergoing treatment. She, as well as her two brothers, were pulled out of school. Rachelle stayed home with all three children and when Dave returned from work, he would strip down in the garage and shower before joining the rest of the family.
The parents recalled the huge H1N1 outbreak during this time and because of that and Liv’s compromised immune system, they chose to keep everyone home.
“It’s not fair,” older brother Dominic recalled. “I couldn’t go to school and see my friends. I couldn’t play sports.”
According to mom and dad, Dominic had one major breakdown during the six months of isolation; it was when he learned of the things he would have to miss to keep his sister well.
“The boys don’t get enough credit,” Rachelle said of her two sons. “It was very hard.”
“I was worried that she wouldn’t be able to come home for a long time,” Dominic said of his younger sister.
“She never asked why and she never complained,” Rachelle said of her daughter.
During the six months, the family fell into a new normal. Rachelle sometimes met Dave at the door so she could take a break for an hour or two. There were haircutting parties with the neighbors, in support of Liv losing her hair, and bike rides in winter clothes.
“The kids had gotten bikes from Santa,” Rachelle said. “So one day in the middle of January I bundled them up in their winter clothes and made them ride around the block with me a few times. I needed to get them out of the house.
“They loved it.”
In addition to random moments of outdoor/isolated activity, the Antinetti family gives much credit to technology and friends and family for helping them maintain sanity during their isolation from the rest of the world.
“From text messages, e-mail and Facebook … they were all tremendous tools for us,” Rachelle said, recalling sitting at the hospital and watching her Facebook page, as it would update with well wishes.
“There were prayer chains for her from people we did not even know… all over the world,” she added. “We could not have made it through without the tremendous support of our family and friends. So many people … helping and praying for us. Thank you will never be enough.”
Once given a clean bill of health and hearing the words ‘cancer free,’ arrangements were made to remove Liv’s port, a device the family had affectionately nicknamed her ‘button.’
“The first question she asked when they were done with her procedure was, “Do I get to go to school tomorrow?,” Dave said.
With an emphatic ‘yes,’ the parents sent their oldest two children back to school to be with their friends and once again enjoy freedom.
“You never really stop worrying,” he added. “But when I heard the percentages of her staying clear of cancer, I knew should would be okay.
“We finally get to go out of the house,” he said. noting the freedom and joy of the family once again being able to go places together as one unit.
Shortly following Liv’s clean bill of health they were informed by their pediatric oncologist that they had been nominated as a ‘Wish Family.’
“We were uncomfortable with it at first,” Rachelle admitted. “We thought there were people with more need.
“We thought it was for children who were terminal, without means.”
“Then they educated us,” Dave said of the Make A Wish volunteers who had visited their home.
The couple described the trip as a type of healing experience for their daughter.
“When we got to Florida it was just … everything,” Dave said. “Everyone there was so wonderful to us.”
In addition to the attractions they saw and visited, the family was treated to stay their entire time in Florida at Give Kids the World Village. It is a 70-acre resort with over 140 villas, entertainment attractions and fun activities planned specifically for kids. The resort is strictly for children and families referred there by one of over 250 Wish Organizations. Everything at the Resort is free to the families.
For youngest brother Carlo, the Putt Putt Golf and swimming pool were named as his favorites from the family Wish vacation.
Liv enjoyed Thunder Mountain Railroad, so much so, that the family rode it multiple times.
“We were able to go to the front of the line for all the rides,” Dave said. “And we would have the whole car to ourselves. We would just go again and again and again.”
We didn’t have to think about anything else but having fun.”
“I want to do this for the Make A Wish kids so they can go on a trip,” Liv said of her Liv, Bros & Co. Lemonade Stand.
“I’m in charge of the signs,” Dominic added, indicating that he and a few of his friends were excited to demonstrate their ‘sign spinning’ abilities to attract a little business.
“I think it’s incredible that the wish kids want to give back,” Krippner said of the Antinetti trio.
“This is not common. Illness really strikes hard. Not all families are able to give back. I think the Antinetti family is very special.”
“I did not know that,” Rachelle admitted. “That makes it a bigger deal for me. We are teaching giving.”
“It’s an opportunity for our kids to learn about giving back,” Dave said. “I think it’s awesome.”
Persons interested in making donations and not able to attend may do so by: mailing a check, payable to Make A Wish, 1570 East F Street, #L-217, Oakdale, CA 95361 or making a deposit at any Wells Fargo Branch to account number 6759759290 (Alivia Antinetti); all money will be given to the Make A Wish Foundation.