Lansford teen Casey Williams has just returned from the trip of a lifetime to California. He recently spent three weeks visiting his brother in the Golden State, taking in the sights and sounds of California's most popular attractions.
Williams' holiday trip was sponsored by the Kids Wish Network, a non-profit organization that offers wish granting for children and adolescents with a life-threatening illness. He was diagnosed with Eswing's sarcoma in late 2008 and has been in remission since late 2009.
His journey began when he was a junior at Panther Valley High School. He experienced several leg injuries while playing sports, but didn't think his injuries were severe enough to see a doctor.
"I had gotten a few injuries from sports. I didn't treat them, and they slowly got worse," he said.
It wasn't until Williams tore his calf in cross country that he finally sought treatment. His physical therapist noticed a lump in his calf, and encouraged him to get it checked out.
Williams visited a doctor in Lancaster for tests before being referred to an oncologist at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown.
"It turned out that I had cancer," said Williams. He was just starting his senior year at Panther Valley High School.
He was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a cancer of the bones and soft tissue, in October 2008. Williams would undergo nearly 9 months of treatment, including 14 rounds of chemotherapy and 25 days of radiation. He completed treatment in August 2009.
During this time, Williams spent some time in the hospital but was mostly homebound. He went to school occasionally when his health and energy allowed, and was touched by the support and care shown by his teachers and friends at Panther Valley.
"I had a lot of teachers who helped me out. Panther Valley was very supportive," said Williams. Still, he looked forward to the end of treatments so that his life could return to normal. "I couldn't wait for this to be over," he added.
While in the hospital, a social worker approached him about the Kids Wish Network. He was a bit hesitant at first, afraid that he was too old for the program. He finally agreed to call them.
The Kids Wish Network receives many requests for trips to Disney World or other theme parks. Other children ask to meet a celebrity or go on a shopping spree. But Williams had a different idea - he wanted to visit his brother in California. Because his brother lives with his father, they rarely get to see each other.
"They thought it was a great idea - they hadn't sent someone to California before," he said. Wish coordinators and local sponsors quickly set up an itinerary of events for the three-week trip over the holidays, including a 2-mile gondola ride up the Sierra Mountain range, a helicopter tour of Lake Tahoe, and a visit to the Sacramento Zoo.
Williams' favorite part of the trip was a visit to the ARCO Arena in Sacramento, where he and his brother watched an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings. The brothers were treated to a limo ride to and from the stadium.
"The Lakers are my favorite basketball team," he said. "It was a good game. They won in double overtime."
Williams also provided his own form of entertainment, bringing along his Play Station to share with his brother during downtime. While he enjoyed all of the activities provided by his wish coordinators, each day was made special because it was spent with his brother.
"He's one of the coolest people I've ever met, and one of the smartest kids I know," said Williams.
Now back in Lansford, Williams is adjusting to a new job with the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps and taking life one day at time. He is currently in remission but must visit his doctors often to ensure that his cancer has not returned. These visits frustrate Williams, who wants to move on and live a normal life. He spent much of his senior year in hospitals and doctors' offices.
"Every two weeks, I would go to the hospital for 3 to 5 days," he said. "I hate hospitals."
Still, he counts his blessings and realizes that he is a lucky person. He's taken the best from a bad situation and now realizes that his friends, family and community will be there to support him during times of need.
"I would like to thank my friends and family, the people from Kids Wish Network, Lehigh Valley Pediatric Oncology, and the Panther Valley School District," he said. "I didn't realize that a community could be brought together through one cause. It surprised me. I am very grateful."
William's wish was made possible by individual and business donations, including: American Legion Post 123, Choice 1 Federal Credit Union, Fraternal Order of Orioles Nest 183, Hills Machine Shop Inc., Krajcirik Automotive, Jim Thorpe National Bank, Valley Athletic Supply, All Phase Masonry, Silberline MFG Inc., ARCO Arena, Elite Limousine of Sacramento, Park Tahoe Inn, Heavenly Mountain Resort, HeliTahoe, Riva Grill on the Lake, Suspects Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre, Borges Sleigh Rides, Hard Rock Café Lake Tahoe, Original Mels Diner, Hornblower Cruises & Events, Sacramento Zoo and the California State Military Museum.
For more information about the kid's Wish Network, visit www.kidswishnetwork.org.