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From Wish Hero to Wish Maker to Wish Dad: Simon’s Story
When Simon Cross first began supporting Make-A-Wish UK in February 2009, he completed a sponsored skydive for the charity and was motivated by the simple idea that the money he raised would directly help a child living with a critical condition. He could never have foreseen that, just a few years later, his own daughter Hannah would be one such child.
Simon has done “pretty much every role a volunteer can do” he told us, remembering his early years at Make-A-Wish UK. He has assisted at events, collected money or cheques, done public speaking engagements and delivered presentations … the list goes on.
But taking on the duties of a 'Wish Maker' has been his most fulfilling role. This is when a pair of trained volunteers visit a local wish child and their family to find out exactly what the child’s wish might be and why.
“This can often be difficult if the child is non-verbal, or doesn’t understand the concept of a wish, and can be quite overwhelming emotionally for both the young person, their family and the volunteers” he explained.
However, Simon’s determination to help families outweighed any emotional strain, and he was in awe of how families coped.
From Wish Maker to Wish Dad
Devastatingly, Simon would find out how first-hand in August 2012, when his then 11-year-old daughter, Hannah, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive soft tissue cancer, just as she was transitioning to secondary school.
"In that moment our world fell apart and we came to realise it would never be the same again."
Simon, Hannah and family were catapulted head-first into a new reality: months of gruelling treatment, appointments and anxious waits for test results. Although Simon had been close to families in similar situations, nothing could have prepared him for the way a life-threatening condition took over his child’s life.
“The side effects of chemotherapy were horrific,” said Simon. “And yet, somehow, Hannah kept smiling.”
With first-hand knowledge of the profound impact that a wish can have on everyone involved, Simon encouraged Hannah to consider what her wish would be – once her initial treatment had finished and Hannah was on maintenance chemotherapy.
As usual, Make-A-Wish volunteers visted her at home and it was special but surreal that Simon knew them because of his Simon’s existing relationship with the charity.
Hannah chose her wish - to meet the cast of Coronation Street - and it was granted in November 2013, when her family was whisked by limousine from their home in Norfolk to the set of the TV soap to watch some filming and to meet some of the cast.
Simon recalls: “Hannah and her brother were asked if they would like to be involved in filming, so they even got to star as extras! To see her smiling, to forget about hospitals, appointments and treatment, even for a short time, was magical.”
But in another cruel twist of fate, Hannah found out she had relapsed on the very day that their episode of Coronation Street was broadcast. She underwent a further nine months of treatment, but it was unsuccessful.
Hannah sadly died with her family around her in September 2014, aged just 13. To be able to look back at positive memories was paramount during that traumatic time, and ever since.
"I’ve experienced what it is like to be the parent of a wish child, and despite the perception that these profound experiences only happen to other people, I found out that it could happen to any of us."
“I’ve seen first-hand the impact of a wish and how important it has been, not only for Hannah but for us as a family. We have those lovely memories, and even have a cherished book of the photos and autographs.”
Despite extraordinary grief, Simon continues to display extraordinary resilience. He works as a volunteer Community Leader for Make-A-Wish and as a Community Wish Co-ordinator, while continuing to be a Wish Maker, fundraiser, volunteer trainer and public speaker – all while juggling family life and a full-time job too.
The rewards of volunteering
Simon told us: “I’ve been fortunate enough to attend other wishes including a visit to London Zoo, a wish to watch WWE wrestling and saw the shock and sheer delight on a boy’s face when he not only saw his favourite steam train but got to drive it too!”
It’s those moments that stay with everyone who supports Make-A-Wish, but Simon could never have anticipated the profound impact that the charity would come to have on his life.
Simon hopes to continue volunteering for Make-A-Wish UK as long as he can in order to help grant a wish for every eligible child, and light up the darkness for children like Hannah.
A heartfelt thank you to Simon - and all those who volunteer their time to make a difference to others - from the whole of the wish community.