We all have a hero. We’ve all been asked the question, “Who do you look up to?” Our answers vary as do our circumstances. Occasionally, someone’s hero is right in front of them, someone they often cross paths with. More often than not, our heroes are historical, fictional or beyond reach. Rarely is one able to meet that person and spend an entire day with them. But for 7-year-old Cub, his experience was different, in more ways than one.
On October 20, 2014, Cub was diagnosed with leukemia. When he was only 5-years-old, Cub’s journey of chemotherapy immediately began. Though his chemotherapy has kept his cancer in remission, he has had many setbacks because of it. Aside from several hospitalizations as a result of the chemotherapy, Cub also suffered a stroke on April 16, 2015.
Enduring chemotherapy treatment requires a combination of bravery and time. For Cub, he had an exceptional amount of both. It was during these moments of patiently waiting for time to pass, that Cub discovered his hero: a professional video gamer named Abdallah. “He would come to the clinic to get his chemotherapy every week and most of the time he was the only kid there his age. When Cub discovered Abdallah’s video game tutorial videos, he would lay in the clinic and watch them while he received his treatments,” said Marilyn, Cub’s mother.
Marilyn shared that because of his diagnosis and being an only child, Cub dealt with feelings of isolation. “When you have cancer as a child it’s not just about feeling sick and receiving treatment, but there are a lot of lifestyle restrictions. Even if you’re having a day where you’re feeling good, depending on what chemotherapy you’re receiving, you can’t even get a fountain drink,” said Marilyn.
After they found out Cub was eligible for a wish, Marilyn said he wasn’t interested in taking a trip anywhere but that he wanted to do one thing: play video games with his hero. “Cub’s wish, to me, heralds the return of his innocence – a loving and generous recompense for the years of frightening treatments, painful side effects, and social isolation that we exchanged for his healing,” said Marilyn.
The planning began. Everyone began preparing for the experience of a lifetime. Well, almost everyone. It wasn’t until the night before his family was supposed to depart for his wish that Cub found out his one-true wish was coming true.
Cub’s wish granting volunteers contacted the family’s favorite local donut shop, Hurts Donuts, and requested a specialized donut with a picture of Cub’s hero, Abdallah, on it. The night before the wish, Marilyn and her husband, Devin, told Cub that Hurts Donuts had a new mystery flavor out and they asked him if he wanted to try it. Of course, Cub couldn’t deny. It was then that Cub was delivered the exciting news that the very next day, he would be meeting his hero.
When Cub and his family arrived in Chicago to meet Abdallah, Cub was greeted with cookies made by Abdallah’s wife and a “swag bag” put together by his hero. Following a tour of Abdallah’s in-home studio, Cub was on the other side of the screen for once. He was no longer in a chair in the clinic, enduring rounds of chemotherapy, he was with his hero experiencing a day of pure bliss. During a two-hour livestream, Cub played Nintendo Switch video games alongside his hero. Later this life-affirming moment was posted on YouTube. As of the time this story was written, it already had over 25,000 views.
The fun continued. They headed to Dave & Buster's for a night of fun and gaming. Cub and his family had their very own party room decorated with balloons and a gift basket with toys, stuffed animals and even a $100 gift card to GameStop. “Cub received around 40,000 tickets. I guess that’s what happens when you go to Dave & Busters with a professional gamer,” Marilyn laughed. “They became instant friends. Abdallah never left Cub’s sight. Unbeknownst to Abdallah, he was Cub’s chemotherapy buddy every week.” Dave & Buster's even provided Cub and Abdallah with their own Dave & Buster's liaison to go with them so that if they had any problems with the games, they could fix them immediately. “They shut the place down. They played until 2 in the morning,” said Marilyn.
It was no doubt that Cub’s wish gave him more than he could have ever hoped for. Cub even found himself struggling to say goodbye to Frankie from Windy City Limousine - he became his personal chauffeur and “bodyguard”. “I think Cub gained a lot of confidence from the experience. Honestly, I think he stands a little bit taller now,” said Marilyn. Cub, now calling it the best day of his life, was able to have a carefree experience, free from nausea or pokes. “He was able to have a normal night as a child which wasn’t actually normal because it was extraordinary,” said Marilyn.
Cub’s wish impact stretched farther than anyone could have imagined. Marilyn, a professional writer before Cub’s diagnosis, said that despite her experience with words, she has trouble finding the words to describe how wonderful the experience was. “As his parent I’ve seen him with fevers, I’ve seen him not knowing if he’s remission yet and one time, he even had a stroke as a result of the chemotherapy. I’ve sat by his bed, watching him on a ventilator, not knowing if he’s going to wake up. To have those images in your mind, as a mom, and then being able to see your kid running around with his hero, doing the one thing he wanted to do most in the world, it’s extraordinary,” said Marilyn.
Cub recently went back to school for the first time since being diagnosed. He is now in third grade and is still in remission. Cub’s wish experience was possible because of amazing donors and supporters, his community and of course his hero - going above and beyond to restore some of his childhood. “I was thinking, ‘When this is all over, how am I going to celebrate? How am I going to help him do something worthy of this battle that he’s going through?’ I just didn’t know how I was going to do it. It’s something that I never would have been able to accomplish for him on my own,” said Marilyn.
For Cub, meeting his hero represents victory. The experience serves as a reminder that despite his circumstances, nothing is unattainable.
“It was like a slingshot moment, catapulting him out of a dark place into this future that he worked so hard for a chance to have.”