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Local woman spearheads wish for Moira teenager with cancer PDF Print E-mail
Written by STEPHEN BARTLETT, Staff Writer   
Monday, April 16, 2007

PLATTSBURGH — Renee Roberts's final memories of her big brother Josh include breakfast with Cinderella and a Mickey Mouse phone he joked he was going to steal and take back with him to New York.
The 10 year-old boy died shortly after that visit to Disney World, and Renee will be forever grateful that the Make-A-Wish Foundation enabled Josh and his family to share that special trip.
"I wouldn't have had those last days if somebody had not done that for us."
Now, the AuSable Valley High School graduate is granting wishes herself.
"I just think I should give back."
Josh began showing symptoms that something was wrong when Renee was 5. Her parents took the 9-year-old to doctors but was told again and again it was nothing serious.
"Eventually, through blood work, we found out," said Renee, 22, sitting in Sibley Hall at Plattsburgh State, where she is studying early childhood and elementary education.
In October of 1990, Josh was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer arising from lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.
Josh, who turned 10 that December, spent much of the next nine months at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vt.
Renee's parents were up-front with her about Josh's condition.
"Their honesty helped me."
The family traveled often to Vermont to be with Josh, staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Burlington. Renee remembers a box in the living room there filled with hats and mittens people had made for families staying at the house.
"I still have a hat I got out of that box."
She smiled at the thought of the people from the Ronald McDonald House.
"They do everything for you."
The Make-a-Wish Foundation rushed a wish for Josh. A limo picked the family up at their home in April and took them to Burlington, where they caught a plane to Florida and stayed at Disney for a week. Josh hopped on as many roller-coasters as he could handle, got autographs from Goofy and Mickey Mouse, ate breakfast with Cinderella ...
The family returned to New York, and, throughout the summer, the boy's body began to shut down. His last day came in July, but not before he saw a fireworks display at the family's Silver Lake camp.
Renee allowed herself a slight grin as she remembered that day, whispering when she spoke.
"Josh passed on July 5 at 1 a.m. He was at home on the love seat with his entire family."
The family eventually moved six miles down the road, unable to remain in a home filled with memories of Josh. But their bond grew stronger, and today Renee shares everything with her parents.
"They are everything to me."
Life continued for everyone, and then one day, home from college, Renee flipped through photos of her with her brother and decided to give back.
"In November 2005, I took the wish-granting course."
A year ago, she met her first child, Brittney, a 16-year-old from Moira with cancer. Seeing the girl, who had lost much of her hair from treatment, reminded Renee of Josh.
"It broke my heart, and I didn't know if I could go on, but then you get e-mails from the family thanking you."
Renee sat back in her chair in Sibley Hall and breathed deeply, sunlight from a nearby window sparkling off her moist eyes.
"Right now, I can picture Josh in the hospital with the therapy dogs."
Renee explained that she has been working on Brittney's wish to visit Cancun and go parasailing. The process started with her getting to know Brittney, learning things, such as her weakness for Skittles candy, which Renee will make sure are in the limo that will pick the girl up to take her to Albany.
"I bought her a Gap beach bag for her trip."
The family also plans to visit museums, and Brittney hopes to see a celebrity or two while dining out. Make-a-Wish covers the costs and provides the family with $1,200 in Traveler's Cheques.
Renee said it's important everything is taken care of, because the family is dealing with enough with Brittney's sickness. The girl's mother was forced to quit her job to tend to her daughter's needs, and her father's earnings go toward medical expenses.
Renee worries about Brittney's condition; she has e-mailed the girl's mother after an unsettling dream.
"There are days I want to cry."
And the wish-granting process — ordering the limo, for instance — makes her think of Josh.
But it's something she has to do.
"Make-A-Wish gave so much to me. That last vacation, the last few times with him, the last memories I have with Josh, and now I'm giving back.
"I am giving Brittney and her family all those memories."

 

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