If you were to walk through the doors of our office in Honolulu, you might be greeted by a smiling young girl with short black hair named Makenna, Kenna for short. Your first thought may be that she is a friendly volunteer working to make a difference. What you might not know is that Kenna is also a former wish kid, whose journey has inspired her to give back.
A little over a year ago, Kenna was like any other high school student. She was looking forward to finishing her junior year, planning her summer classes, and preparing for another year as a member of her school’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program. She was also starting to think about college and perhaps even joining the National Guard. But when she was unexpectedly diagnosed with leukemia in May 2017, her whole life changed.
“It really just affected everything,” Kenna recalls, “All of my plans were erased in that single moment of hearing the diagnosis.”
She began to feel the weight of the treatments and tests in between hospital visits, and the diagnosis took a toll on her academic plans; she was unable to finish her junior year and underwent treatment throughout her senior year.
In addition, constant visits to the hospital and trips to the ER left Kenna feeling lonely—surrounded by adults and doctors while many of her friends were busy balancing school and work.
Through the storm of chemotherapy and hospital stays, Kenna found comfort listening to her favorite band, 5 Seconds of Summer (5SOS). Having followed the group since she was 13 years old, Kenna identifies with the passion they put into their music on an emotional level she can’t describe.
Some of the nurses and hospital staff knew about her favorite group, especially her child life specialist, whose daughter is also a fan. Kenna recalls a particularly difficult morning that turned around when the specialist came in to wake her by playing 5SOS. “I was just so happy,” Kenna describes with a glint in her eye and smile on her face.
When she was approached by Make-A-Wish Hawaii, Kenna immediately knew what her true wish was—she wished to meet her favorite band in person. Wish granters Jodi, Jeannie, and Charissa organized a surprise wish reveal party in the JROTC classrooms at Kenna’s high school. Blue, pink, and purple streamers and balloons lined the hallways and a large 5SOS banner hung on the wall. Kenna celebrated her wish reveal party surrounded by friends, JROTC teammates, family, and her wish granters. The surprise was another bright moment during the dark year Kenna had endured.
Soon after, Kenna arrived in San Francisco for the 5SOS concert, bursting with excitement at her wish coming true and being able to share it with her family and best friend, Anna. They were all escorted backstage to meet the band, whose welcoming demeanor made it easy for Kenna to explain how much their music means to her, especially during her difficult battle with cancer.
Thinking back on her wish, Kenna says it was the happiest she had been in a year. Her happiness did not go unnoticed by her mom, who told wish granter Jodi that she hadn’t seen Kenna this “happy and strong” since the diagnosis.
Since her wish experience, Kenna has been active in giving back to her Make-A-Wish Hawaii ‘ohana, from sharing her story on the radio to assisting with day-to-day operations that help wishes like hers come true. Her sweet smile and passionate drive to support other kids struggling with critical illness lights up our office and inspires everyone who walks through our doors.