PRICEVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – 288 children in Alabama are waiting for their wishes to be granted by Make-A-Wish. Tessa Holmes is one of 89 in North Alabama. Tessa’s wish is for a trip to New York City during her favorite time of year: Christmas.
Tessa was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer last summer, tipped off that something was wrong after her attending band camp with her Majorette team, something she was no stranger to.
“We had to work our and run routines constantly, and be out in 100 degree weather from 8 in the morning to 5 at night, we were in and out all day, so I just thought my loss of appetite and fatigue was because of that, but I do remember not feeling as tired at past camps,” Tessa said.
After camp ended though, she felt worse. She gave herself a few more days to recover, but when her leg and abdomen began to ache, she told her mom she needed to see a doctor.
Tessa’s mom Gail made an appointment with Tessa’s pediatrician, who sent them to Huntsville Hospital Women’s and Children’s after feeling a mass. After testing, the hospital sent them to Huntsville’s St. Jude affiliate.
“In my mind, I’m still not letting myself go there at all. I just never imagined someone Tessa’s age could have ovarian cancer,” Gail said.
They received the diagnosis a few days later, while Tessa and Gail were on their way to get manicures. Gail’s phone rang, and the doctor spoke through the car’s Bluetooth speaker.
“Tessa just reaches over in the car as I’m driving and gets my hand, and she whispers, ‘Mom, it’s going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay’,” Gail said.
“I never would’ve thought I would’ve had ovarian cancer as a 15-year-old. You thought that would be more of an adult thing, so I never thought I’d have it and I never thought it was something I’d have to go through,” Tessa said.
Tessa’s dad, Danny, said her faith carried her through what came next, as did the rest of the family’s.
“The battle between the moment they told us, to the moment that we got through the chemo and she started feeling better, that was a long journey,” Danny said.
The journey started with an operation to remove a softball-sized malignant tumor, along with Tessa’s left ovary. Then came chemo, which caused the teen to lose her hair.
“Three months of chemo — it knocked me out of school, it knocked me out of twirling, it knocked me out of hanging out with my friends,” Tessa said. “During the summer I was NEVER home. I was always doing something, so to go from that to being at home — yeah, that was hard.”
She leaned on her family. Her two brothers, Trent and Ty, visited her from college as often as they could. To protect her fragile immune system, one brother moved in with the family’s grandfather.
“You never know something like this is going to happen to you, but when it does happen to you, relationships: if they’re not already strong, they’re going to break, but ours was strong enough to help our sister through this,” Trent said.
Tessa’s parents say their daughter is tough and kept her eye on the future, rather than the present.
“I would always look forward to Christmas because I knew I would be over being sick by Christmas time,” Tessa said.
“She’ll go through the whole house and decorate for Christmas, her room will be all decked out, Christmas is a big time for Tessa,” Danny said.
When she was approached by Make-A-Wish, she knew exactly what she wanted: to travel again now that she is in remission, but not just anywhere, and not just with anyone. She wants to go to New York City with all three of her family members during Christmas time.
“From the real meaning of Christmas to gift-giving and the season, the songs, so I’ve always wanted to go to New York, and this is a good time because it’s Christmas, and I’ve always heard it’s magical.”
She wants to see the famous Rockefeller tree. She also wants to see the Rockettes.
“I saw some of the people I look up to, the [University of Alabama] Crimsonettes go there and they marched in the Macy’s Day parade. I saw they got to twirl on stage at the Rockettes,” she said. “I do the same things as [the Rockettes] and I twirl and dance so I share a passion with them of doing what I love,” she said.
Moreso than this though, she knows how important it is to have a wish to look forward to, on some of the hardest days.
“This wish is very special to me, and for all the other kids, its special to them too. Its something that they get to look forward to and its something that no matter how hard chemo is or how hard cancer is in general, the get to look forward to doing something you may not be able to do that if you didn’t go through that. So, you don’t know if youre doing to make it through it, but to know you can have that big experience? That’s really special,” Tessa said.
Wishes like Tessa’s are granted through donations from those living in Alabama. News 19 is hosting a Telethon with Make-A-Wish on June 23. If you’d like to donate before then, text “WISHES” to 243-725.