Make-A-Wish has lasting effect on local cancer survivor

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When Stephanie Gaston was just 16 years old, she noticed a lump on her neck.

At first, she thought it was nothing, but after a while with the lump still present, she decided to take a trip to the doctor.

"My mom and grandma came and picked me up from school and took me to the doctor, and we waited a couple of days for the results," Stephanie said.

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When the results came in, Stephanie learned that she had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma - a cancer of the immune system. She underwent her first round of chemotherapy within a week.

Stephanie and her family were approached by Make-A-Wish® South Dakota, and after a couple of meetings, Stephanie decided on a wish that she would like to be granted.

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"My sister was 14 at the time, and she really, really, really wanted to see the Backstreet Boys," she said. "Unfortunately, that wasn't my wish.”

The verdict was in, and the entire family was headed to Hawaii.

"Every day was just packed full of fun things,” she said. “We took surfing lessons, and we went on a helicopter. We did a pineapple plantation tour. We learned how to scuba dive and snorkel. We did everything you could imagine doing in Hawaii."

The trip represented much more than just a vacation for the Gastons. It was a time for her family to reconnect and bond — something they hadn’t been able to do for nearly a year.

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"We didn't get to focus on spending time together. Most of our time was spent at a doctor's office, at check-ups or laying on the couch,” Stephanie said.

Eight months after her diagnosis, Stephanie got the notice that she was cancer-free. Now 14 years later, she and her 5-year-old daughter Zoe help volunteer at Make-A-Wish® South Dakota.

“Zoe and I started being involved with Make-A-Wish® here locally. We do the Walk for Wishes every year, and we go out, and we walk, and we wear our t-shirts," she said. "I can’t ever thank Make-A-Wish® enough for what they did for me and what they did for my family."

There are more than 70 kids across South Dakota in the process of receiving a wish. Make-A-Wish® South Dakota has granted more than 1,250 wishes since it began in 1985.

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The average cost of a wish is nearly $7,000. Referrals can be made my medical professionals, the child’s parent or guardian or family members with direct knowledge of the child’s illness.

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