A King Among Kids

TVT_8581In September 2012, Reece King was a normal 10-year-old. A bright, happy and outgoing young man, he spent his days riding his bike and hanging out with his friends. But his world was rocked when he received a diagnosis of ALL  – acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

This blood-related cancer turned Reece’s life upside down and flipped his days formerly filled with legos and Nerf guns into those filled with hospitals and pills. Although a cancer diagnosis ordinarily would be enough to send any child, or person for that matter, into a deep state of despair, this did not prove to be the case with Reece. In fact, he not only faced his journey with bravery and good humor but actually used it as a launching pad to change the world.

Roughly six months after Reece, now 13, received his diagnosis, he was approached by Make-A-Wish due to the fact that he had a life-threatening disease. Since 1980, the foundation has become known for arranging experiences for sick children; whether it’s spending a day with Jennifer Lawrence, flying an airplane or seeing pineapples grow in real life, the experience is up to the child, and the options are nearly limitless.

For Collie King, Reece’s father, it was more about the possibility of the wish than the actual wish itself that brought true hope and light to the family’s difficult time. “The miracle for Make-A-Wish was not the wish itself but the anticipation for the wish,” he affirms. “When you sit there and he’s throwing up because he gags on medicine and he’s got to get another shot and go back and take more medicine and he’s crying and screaming, we could always say, ‘Hey, let’s talk about the wish.’”

TVT_8629The family came up with some pretty wild ideas, Reece says. A ride in Air Force One was one option, as was spending a day shadowing Criss Angel in Las Vegas. Ultimately, though, he decided to wish for a state-of-the-art Harry Potter-themed treehouse created by the folks behind the television show “Treehouse Masters.”

But while he was awaiting the response from Make-A-Wish, Reece was finally feeling healthy enough to cash in on an offer made by his father early in his cancer journey. “My dad had told me as soon as I was well enough to travel, he would take me on a vacation wherever I wanted to go,” Reece explains. “So once I was good, we went on a Disney Cruise.”

While Reece and his father were on their vacation, however, they got some disheartening news. “We got a call from Make-A-Wish saying that three other families also wanted a treehouse and that the producers of the show were going to make it kind of like a competition to see who had the best story,” Reece recalls. “And we decided that while some other kid really needed the treehouse, we just wanted it. So we decided to drop out of the running for the treehouse. And then we went back to the drawing board and thought of something else.”

Reece’s father remembers being on the cruise and talking to Reece about their options going forward when his son presented a very mature viewpoint. “He did say to me when we were on the cruise, ‘Dad, we’re on this cruise, and something like this is most kids’ wish,’” King recounts. “And I think he’s always known right from wrong and to take care of others.”

And thinking of others is just what Reece was doing when he at last called Make-A-Wish with his new wish. “Over time, I was thinking, ‘Well, it’d be cool if I helped someone else,’” Reece relates. “And we just started thinking about what we could do to make the most impact. And that’s where Reece’s Wish to Raise $1 Million came from.”

Currently about a quarter of the way to completion, this endeavor initiated by Reece is intended to not help just one or two children with cancer but a whole demographic entirely. The money raised by the wish will be split between Make-A-Wish, Kentucky Children’s Hospital, Kosair Children’s Hospital and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Reece is particularly excited, however, about Teen Cancer America, a partner of Kosair Chidren’s Hospital and consequently another beneficiary of the project.

“Teen Cancer America is a branch of a foundation that Roger Daltry and Pete Townsend from The Who started a while ago in England called Teenage Cancer Trust,” Reece explains. “Recently, they came to California to start Teen Cancer America, which goes around to children’s hospitals and builds teen cancer wings. Because teens are too old to be kids but too young to be adults, there’s not really much for them in the hospitals. So part of this money is going to go toward building a teen cancer wing at Kosair Children’s Hospital.”

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

Indeed, there isn’t a lot offered at area hospitals for teenagers going through cancer, as most of the recreation options available are more designed for children under 10. Reece experienced this first-hand when he was a patient at The Addison Jo Blair Cancer Care Center at Kosair Children’s Hospital, and he is now looking to change that, as he points out that about 25 percent of the children undergoing inpatient care are teenagers.

Another movement Reece is looking to support with his wish is the Hall of Hope at Kentucky Children’s Hospital. Reece and his parents note that frequently in a cancer center, almost everything is named for individuals who lost their battle. His mother, Nora King, remarks, “Those are amazing tributes, but for the kids inside…” Her voice trails off as she tries to explain how it can’t be too encouraging for children undergoing cancer treatment to constantly be reminded of those who were not so lucky.

So now in the works at Kentucky Children’s and something that will be supported by Reece’s Wish is the Hall of Hope. It’s a space in the hospital where interactive video monitors allow anyone to approach and put in their age and relationship to someone undergoing treatment. From siblings to parents to the patients themselves, they’ll be met with a success story of someone just like them and hopefully be encouraged that there is hope to come out all right on the other end.

For Reece, he’s so close to the other end he’s already planning his celebration. His last treatment will be on December 10, and his last oral chemo will be on December 28. “There will be a big party that night,” his dad says with a smile. And Reece certainly credits his outlook at least partially with what got him through such a difficult time. “If you don’t have a positive attitude, it’ll just tear you apart,” he emphasizes. “You’ve got to keep your head up and keep fighting through.”

Reece’s constant positivity and his wish itself are certainly unusual for someone his age, but his parents admit that he’s always been mature beyond his years. “He’s always had an old soul,” his mother contends. “He’s always had an awareness that’s seemed very adult-like.” And it’s this awareness and this strength that have made this entire journey more doable for the family. Nora King continues, “I’ve said this to everybody when they say, you know, ‘How do you do it?’ I say, ‘Well, first of all, you just have to do it. But Reece lifts us up. Reece lifts us up every day. There’s no doubt about it.’”

As one would expect, Reece’s Wish has generated a good amount of media attention, and he himself is becoming something of a local celebrity, which he loves – not because of the fame but because of what it will accomplish. “I do like it because that’s what this whole thing is about: just raising awareness about what these children have to go through. Like my dad has said, it’s not about the money; it’s about raising the awareness.”

Looking ahead, Reece plans to continue fighting to raise the $1 million and possibly even more. But in the more immediate future, he’s preparing for his upcoming audition at the Youth Performing Arts School, where he will attempt to major in drama, musical theatre or vocal music. He’s been acting since the second grade and has performed in such shows as “Grease” and “Into the Woods.”

Currently though, he’s in “Annie,” and is gearing up for a very special event. Last month, Reece spoke at a press conference at Macy’s to officially kick off the company’s Believe campaign, which donates $1 to Make-A-Wish for every letter to Santa children drop off at the store. On December 11, Macy’s is hosting Reece’s Wish Day with a pep rally at school and a visit by UK football head coach Mark Stoops.

Then, at Oxmoor, Reece will be publicly shaving his head, partially to prepare for his upcoming role of Daddy Warbucks and partially to stand in solidarity with those affected by cancer. The cast of “Annie” will be performing on a stage just outside Macy’s and hopefully encourage the crowd not only to check out the production but also help Reece in his goal to raise $1 million.

So this holiday season, why not give to Reece? To someone who has demonstrated selflessness unusual of even most adults, someone who has put others before himself, someone who chooses to lift up the community as opposed to himself. For more information on Reece and his wish, visit reecemakesawish.org and consider making a contribution. If we all take part, we can maybe help Reece’s wish finally come true.

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