Make-A-Wish comes through for teen girl
In addition to the trip, she'll get a nice chunk of spending money.
POLAND -- About a month ago, Justine Ula got a chance to make a wish.
She wanted to go shopping.
Today, her wish is coming true -- in grand style.
A limousine is to pull up in front of Justine's home in Poland Township. She and her mom, Joann Russo, are to be driven to Pittsburgh, where they will board a plane headed for Minneapolis and their ultimate destination -- the Mall of America. They'll return to Poland on Wednesday.
The trip is a gift from Make-A-Wish of Northeast Ohio. Justine, 14, is undergoing treatment for Ewing's sarcoma, a type of bone cancer that tends to strike people between the ages of 10 and 20. She was diagnosed in May and has since been through chemotherapy, surgery, radiation treatment and now, a second round of chemotherapy.
A friend approached Russo about Make-A -Wish several months ago, suggesting that the family might contact the organization. Many people have the idea that Make-A-Wish grants wishes only to children on their deathbeds, Russo said, and that's not true.
"I think it used to be like that, to some extent," Russo said. "But there have been so many advances in the treatment of all these diseases, and they now want children in treatment to have a wish granted so when they're 30, they might say, 'You know I was sick a long time ago and I got to go on this neat trip.' We hope it's a bright spot while she's going through this treatment."
At first, Justine's wish was for a trip to someplace warm -- a cruise, perhaps. But the reality of her illness is that she can't swim in the ocean or a public pool because of a tube in her chest, and she couldn't stand the thought of being at the ocean, but not in the water. So she came up with the idea of a visit to the super mall.
"It just popped in my head one day," Justine said.
"Leave it to my daughter," Russo said with a laugh. "My child can't go shopping in Miami. She wants Minnesota in January."
Justine is in for some serious shopping: 520 stores, 50 restaurants, an amusement park and a walk-in aquarium. In anticipation of the trip, money was No. 1 on her Christmas list. Make-A-Wish has given her $1,000 to spend at the mall.
She's visited the mall's Web site many times and has her shopping strategy planned. Her shopping list changes almost daily, but as of Thursday, it included "CDs, DVDs, clothes, jewelry and things for my friends."
She will use a wheelchair to get around the mall, she said. She had to learn to walk all over again since her September surgery, and just last week she ditched her crutches. But she knows getting around such a big place will be challenging, and she's ready for it.
The past nine months have thrown a lot of obstacles in her path, but Justine has remained positive. She has a lot of support from her family -- her mom, her dad, Bob Ula, and her sister, Tristan, as well as many friends.
Sports has always been a passion for her, and she wonders if she'll ever be able to play soccer. This spring, she can't run track but she will keep statistics for the Poland Middle School team.
She's learned a lot through her illness, she said. Many of those lessons have come during her treatments at Rainbow Babies & amp; Children's Hospital in Cleveland.
"I don't know how or why, but I've always known I would get through this," Justine said. "I have seen what people worse off than me have gone through. It's sad. I always told myself I would get through it. I think you have to have a positive attitude."