One week in the summer before his junior year, Dylan—a music theater buff and theme park enthusiast—performed in a musical and went to Six Flags with his friends. The next week, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“It really came out of nowhere,” says his mother, Roni. “He seemed totally fine and then, all of the sudden, he wasn’t.”
Early on his treatment, Dylan learned that he qualified for a wish. “My eyes widened, and I perked up in my seat,” he says. “Hearing that after getting the worst news possible, I just felt so hopeful and so excited.”
Dylan is a Disney superfan and is fascinated with theme park design. He is especially interested in the Disney Imagineers, the talented creative minds behind the parks. He dreams of one day becoming an Imagineer himself. So, he determined his wish would be to go to Disney World and experience some behind-the-scenes magic.
Thinking about his wish helped Dylan immensely as he was going through treatment. “It was just a really big motivation for me,” he explains.
Nevertheless, treatment was incredibly hard on Dylan. Eight months into it, he relapsed and had to start chemo all over again to try to get back in remission. “He was considered even more high risk,” says Roni. “It was just really scary.”
The relapse also meant that Dylan had to wait longer for his wish because he wasn’t well enough to travel.
He received a bone marrow transplant the summer before what would have been his senior year. Dylan says this was the hardest part of his treatment, physically and emotionally.
“Physically, it was the weakest I’d ever been. All my hair was gone and I had a feeding tube for the first time,” he says. “I was on so many pain meds that I was just zonked out the entire time, but I was also still in lots of pain.
Emotionally, the burden was even bigger. Doctors anticipated that Dylan would require three to six months of isolation following the surgery. Instead, he ended up in isolation for a full year, missing all of his senior year. “It was a really tough year,” says Dylan.
It was hard for him to watch his friends and siblings go about their lives without him, particularly his twin brother. “I’m on social media, and that honestly didn’t help,” Dylan says. “Seeing everything that my friends were doing really made it hard for me because I was just stuck inside.”
“He missed out on a lot,” says Roni, “and that was hard, especially when he had a twin brother that was getting to do everything that he couldn’t do.”
As parents, Roni and Dylan’s dad, Richard, were torn. They hated to see Dylan suffer emotionally, but they also knew that he needed to stay isolated for his own protection. His immune system was incredibly compromised, and they couldn’t risk exposing him to the outside world.
“It was hard because we kind of felt like he was trapped, like he was being held prisoner,” Roni explains, “but I think that we wouldn’t be where we are today if we had not taken it so seriously.”
Thankfully, Dylan was released from isolation just a week before graduation–so he was able to walk with his friends. “That was awesome,” he says. And more awesomeness was ahead of him, as he could finally safely take the wish trip he’d been thinking about during his long, bumpy road to recovery.
The magic started with a smooth limo ride to the airport. “Being picked up in a limo to go to the airport was amazing,” says Dylan. “I had never been in one before and I just felt so special.”
Once they arrived in Florida, the family was blown away by their accommodations. “I’ve never stayed at a Disney hotel before, and they put me in the Grand Floridian during Christmastime,” says Dylan. “It was just the most amazing thing ever.”
At Disney World, Dylan met up with Diego, a Disney Imagineer, who took the family on a tour of the new Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios. “I asked a lot of questions,” says Dylan. “He was super cool.”
Dylan was even gifted an Imagineering pin, something that’s usually reserved exclusively for Imagineer staff. “It’s really cool to have that to remember that time with him,” says Dylan. “It just gives me even more hope for the future.”
“We had a wonderful, wonderful week at Disney,” says Roni. “More than anything, the greatest part was being together as a family—being able to go on a trip and just get away. We spent great quality time together.”
Today, Dylan’s cancer is in remission. “It’s just a huge relief for me and my family and friends,” he says. He’s now a freshman at college, where he’s studying technical theater and scenic design, learning how to make magic happen on stage. Inspired by his meeting with Diego, he’s focusing on mastering what he loves.
“One of the things that I learned on my wish trip was to stick to that piece of art that you’re really attached to, and then take that to Disney,” he says. “They want you to be passionate about your craft. And this is my craft.”
Looking back on the wish experience, Roni says, “it gave Dylan something to fight for. It gave him something really exciting to look forward to. Kind of like the trophy at the end of it.”
Dylan’s wish was generously adopted by the James Boyce Trust. Our Adopt-A-Wish program offers the opportunity to invest in a wish experience, altering the course of a wish child's life, forever. Learn more.