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Conn. child with cancer visits Great Barrier Reef

Posted: April 30, 2011 - 3:05pm

DURHAM, Conn. — Being told you have Hodgkin’s lymphoma two weeks before your eighth-grade graduation seems like news that might break your spirit. But for Molly Fehon, now a sophomore at Coginchaug Regional High School, the entire experience has been replaced with an Australian adventure, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“Molly is a Harry Potter nut,” said Mary Ellen Pettit, Molly’s mother. “She had a dream when she was in the hospital that she went swimming with J.K. Rowling on a reef.”

That dream is part of what helped Molly decide what would be a part of her wish.

“I knew I wanted to go somewhere,” Molly said. “I am really interested in Marine Biology.”

And while Molly’s final choice didn’t include Rowling or dolphins, it did include a reef — the largest, in fact — the Great Barrier Reef off the northeastern coast of Queensland and Cairns, Australia.

“Nothing is off limits,” said Michael Dominick, communications manager for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Connecticut. “We do everything and anything we can to make a wish a reality . and travel wishes are becoming more and more popular.”

Molly and her family were introduced to Make-A-Wish through a social worker in the oncology department of the hospital Molly was being treated at while receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments back in 2009. According to Dominick, wish kids are most often nominated by social workers, their parents or themselves.

“I was told, ‘Hey this exists, start thinking about it,’” Molly said about the opportunity for a Make-A-Wish.

The applicants fill out an initial form, and then a medical professional makes sure they fit within the organization’s mission, Dominick said.

“Then two wish granter volunteers help them along with the process,” he said.

One of Molly’s wish granters was Linda Fiore of Cheshire.

“She coordinated everything,” said Pettit. “She was an angel.”

Molly decided on Australia by December 2010, and plans took off quickly for the family of five, who traveled to Australia in February. Before their departure, the family was treated to a “Wish Delivery” party at Illiano’s Restaurant in Middletown, one of Molly’s favorites. At the restaurant, Molly’s wish granter volunteers presented the family with their itinerary for the trip as well as luggage for Molly and other items for the long flight. Illiano’s also donated the entire meal for the family in honor of Molly.

“The people at Illiano’s could not have been more generous,” Pettit said. “They were amazing.”

“It was great,” Molly said about the party and about Make-A-Wish. “They gave me a luggage set and a camera, so that was great.”

After a 32-hour plane ride, full of movies and anticipation, the family’s adventure began.

One of the highlights of the trip for Molly was visiting The Great Barrier Reef and getting to snorkel a section of its 2,900 individual reefs.

“It was box jelly fish season there, so they close all the beaches from October through May,” Molly said. “We had to wear full body wetsuits so that we would be safe.”

Poisonous jellyfish weren’t the only close encounter on the reef. There were sharks as well.

“They weren’t actually that big,” Molly said. “It was really cool to see them.”

Swimming alongside sharks didn’t deter the family from enjoying the experience.

“Molly and I were the first ones in the water and the last ones out,” Pettit said.

She said she loved the snorkeling.

“The whole time I kept repeating, ‘I can’t believe I’m in Australia,’” she said. “But then, every now and then — as a mom — you remember why you are there.”

Molly’s older sister, Maura Fehon, said the trip was “absolutely amazing.”

“We were so blessed,” she said. “One day we went out to a platform on the reef and Molly and my dad and I went up in a helicopter.”

That helicopter trip was also a highlight for Molly.

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