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“I wish to be an elephant zookeeper”
9 years old, Surrey
Nine-year-old Florence lives in Surrey with her mum, dad and three older brothers. Her favourite animal is the magnificent elephant so her wish was to find out how to care for the creatures. Florence’s wish came true in October 2018.
In April 2017, Florence was diagnosed with leukaemia, a type of childhood blood cancer. As she began a long and debilitating course of chemotherapy, she was scared.
Her hair fell out, her body grew bigger from the steroid treatment, and she barely spoke for about two months. Her Mum Vanessa soon noticed that, although Florence was quiet around the doctors, she was taking in every single word.
At age seven, she was old enough to understand the seriousness of what was happening, but not quite old enough to cope with the intense emotions of being diagnosed with a critical illness.
Time for something amazing
Her family stopped planning days out because almost every one had to be cancelled. Even Florence’s own birthday party had to be cancelled because she was too poorly. Her CLIC Sargent nurse told her parents about Make-A-Wish, and when she began to regain her strength, they decided it was the right time for Florence to choose something special, just for her.
When our Wish Visitors went to see Florence, they soon discovered that she had a passion for animals, especially elephants! From imaginary elephants, to books about elephants, Florence loves them all, but she had never seen one in real life until the day of her wish.
Wishgranter Becky arranged for Florence to meet real elephants at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, just after her ninth birthday.
Before the wish, her Mum Vanessa said: "Florence’s love of elephants has helped her through the marathon of her treatment. It’s been heart-breaking to have to give her medication which makes her feel so sick and emotional. Although she can’t walk far without a wheelchair now, or run around with her friends, she’s been so resilient.
“When you go through something like this, you give up so much and you have to work hard to put the fun back into life because so much of your energy is spent on getting through the day.
"It’s easy to get so ingrained in treatment that you forget to treat Florence as a child first and as a patient after.
“Giving our other children the support they need on their own journey's has been tough too. One of our sons is taking his GCSEs and another started at secondary school this year, but the focus has had to be on Florence, so it’s going to be amazing to have this special day all together, a treat for us all to enjoy as a family.”
Frozen with excitement
We caught up again with Vanessa again after the wish and she said: “When we arrived at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, we went to the café and ate Florence’s favourite rainbow cake thanks to the spending money from Wishgranter Becky.
In the afternoon, we went to meet the elephants. Florence was almost frozen with excitement, she stood at the fence and watched them out in the field, beside herself with joy!
Sleeping next to tigers
“The elephant keepers invited us into the paddock, and we met two-year-old elephant ‘Elizabeth’, who likes to play with a football. The keepers had just put out food - they hang it up and hide it for the elephants to find.
"It was so lovely seeing them foraging about and playing. We fed the elephants with bananas before meeting the head keeper, who chatted with us and explained the elephants’ daily routine.
"We talked about how they keep the elephants healthy and how elephant care has changed over the years. It was amazing.
“There was a dusk tour to see rhinos, then a torch-lit tour after dinner where we saw the tigers. We stayed overnight in pods at the zoo, it was so warm and cosy. They’re actually inside the zoo so you can hear the tigers while you doze off!
"After our own breakfast the next day, we fed the animals their breakfast, the bears were all sat waiting for us as we arrived!
The anxiety just fell away
“The whole trip couldn’t have been any better. Florence was literally spellbound. Her eyes were huge, she couldn’t speak she was so excited, she thought she was dreaming.
"Her brothers got really into it as well. It was magical, and I’ll never forget it.
“It’s so important for Florence to have this experience. She misses out and becomes quiet every time she goes into hospital. We’ve made a photobook about her wish that she takes with her to chemo and has taken into school for show and tell, and she talks about her wish with everyone – nurses, relatives, friends.
"It’s given her something positive to say when people ask how she is."
Proper Florence is back!
“There is no way we could have arranged it ourselves, so it was completely out of the ordinary. It made her feel proud and special for a good reason.
"The timing was perfect – we’re a year and half into treatment now, with eight more cycles to go, so it’s given her the lift she needed.
"We know how much Florence loves animals, but I’ve never seen her so excited about something since before she was ill, it was lovely to see that side of her come back again. She was proper Florence!
Thank you to everyone who sponsored Florence’s wish to be an elephant zookeeper.
"It was a joy and, for a moment, we forgot about everything else. The anxiety just fell away and we relaxed and enjoyed the experience."
We rely on generous donations from people like you to grant wishes. Your donation will make wishes become a reality for critically ill children, supporting them where the need is greatest. Thank you.