Find out more about When you wish upon a star
When You Wish Upon a Star has a simple mission; to grant the wishes of children living with a life threatening illness. Our wishes have the power to transform the lives of the children and families we work with and since 1990 we have proudly granted over 16,500 wishes across the UK.
Some children wish to be a fairy princess or soldier for the day, meet celebrities or sporting heroes that range from Lionel Messi in Barcelona, to Taylor Swift, and even Mary Berry and others Wish for a laptop or IPad to keep in contact with their friends and family whilst in hospital.
Find out more by clicking on the ‘visit Wish Upon a Star’ button.
Spinney have chosen to support the charity by siting a caravan each month at a local site, offering families some quality relaxing time away together. Each Caravan is kitted out with all living/food essentials and a few treats to make the days away, as stress free and fun as possible.Contact us Visit wish upon a star
The families we’ve helped
Our first family went to Blakemere touring park for a wonderful break, read all about it.
"Thank you so much for a beautiful weekend, from the moment we arrived to the moment we left the sun was shining.
The welcome hamper was beautiful and very thoughtful and as you can imagine Lenina made light work of the treats. We had plenty to keep us busy and occupied, we had a beautiful breakfast over at the main restaurant which set us up for the day’s activities.
We’ve painted ceramic pots (we’re popping back next weekend to collect) and we’ve all had a go at candle dipping. Lenina wanted a go at the archery - silly me I didn’t check the times it ran on to and by the time we had finished the pottery and the candles they had closed but it’s a nice excuse to pop back and try out some of the other activities.
We didn’t realise just how many shops and how many things were available to do at the Blakemere Village Craft Centre - we will definitely be back.
Thank you from all of us it was a lovely weekend, the weather was a bonus and it was great being able to take our little Daisy a great relaxing time was had by all."
Lots of Love Angela, Lenina, Glynis, Geoff and Daisy
The families' stories
Reilly was diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of 2 and a half, he underwent two operations to remove it, as he had really bad pressure on the brain which caused him to suffer seizures for quite a while as well as affected vision and hearing. Since then he’s had to re-learn to walk and talk and being such a determined little boy, nothing will stop him! He is a man on a mission with a great sense of humour!
My Beautiful son Riley Vanzyl was born on 3rd December 07….. and was diagnosed with a Malignant Rhabdoid Tumour on 9th Sept 2011 at the age of 3 years and 9 months.
We had no idea that there was anything wrong with Riley up until this point. He was a loving, cheerful happy little boy, who adored his big sister Lenina and enjoyed nothing more than playing with his Skylanders characters.
At this time in our life my husband Ernst and I were separated, but he still played a big part in the children’s lives, and together with my Mum and Dad was my rock during the hard days that lay ahead.
Lenina was only 6 years old when her adored her little brother was diagnosed with his condition, and spent many happy hours playing games with him.
Riley began experiencing breathing difficulties and an x-ray showed that his left lung had collapsed and he also had pneumonia. He had suffered from constipation for 6 weeks but also lost 10 lbs in the same period, which gave rise to concern and this is when a chest x-ray and ultrasound scan were performed. This showed a grapefruit sized mass which after 2 days deliberation, the hospital decided needed a chest drain, and this is when they realised that Riley was in trouble.
I can never forget the day that Riley’s journey of treatments began: Friday 9th Sept 2011.
He was given chemotherapy drugs for 5 months to shrink the large grapefruit mass in his stomach, then Riley went on to have an 11hr operation which still left 2% on his spinal Column and Aorta. It had attached itself to his spine and his heart, which meant because the tumour was so aggressive that Riley had no chance to survive. We were then offered radiotherapy to try and buy us time with our beautiful boy. Riley had 2 weeks of intensive treatment which the doctors hoped would buy us another 4 weeks – and anything after that would be a bonus.
This was a time of great mental and physical despair for all the family, together with the day to day financial worries of how to keep a roof over our heads. Many working days were lost from the start of Riley’s diagnosis to this devastating stage, and now our hearts were ripped apart as we faced the unmentionable thought that we were going to lose Riley.
The problem we had was that I had to give up my job to enable me to be there 24/7 for Riley and to get us all through the trauma that is a cancer journey. Lenina spent more time with her Grandparents (my mum and dad) and Ernst her father who was in the throes of setting up a new business, than she did at home.
I lived on a day to day basis dependant on which chemotherapy regime Riley was having. There were the countless night runs we made to the hospital when he spiked a temperature, he would then be rushed into hospital and stay there to be monitored for a couple of days and receive intravenous antibiotics to ward off as many infections as possible.
Riley regularly got shingles and chicken pox due to having little or no immune system, this again required intermitant hospital stays and blood transfusions when his platlets were low.
My mum and dad together with Lenina’s Dad Ernst shared the care, and were able luckily to step in whilst we were away at the hospital. I constantly felt guilty at not being able to be there for Lenina. I lost count of how many times late night or early hours of the morning scooping her out of bed, and dropping her off at my mum’s whilst I then carried on to the hospital with my sick son Riley.
I hadn’t realised that even when your child is given a terminal diagnosis, you are unable to claim for any kind of benefit for 3 months, so I was constantly worrying about how I could keep going. My Workplace kept my job open whilst I was on unpaid leave which I was very greateful for, but I had to borrow money to try and stay afloat. Any savings we and my family had went on the mortgage, and everyday bills trying to keep a roof over our head. It can never be a priority over your dying child, but in the early hours of the morning when everything awful runs through your head, it’s there! The bills are pushed to the back of the drawer, and the hospital paperwork is on the worktop next to the toaster, and we seemed to eat a lot of toast in the early hours of the morning.[BREAKHERE]
There is only one priority at this time and that is Riley xx
In the week before ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ first contacted me, we had been told Riley’s condition was now worse than they had initially thought. They had said we would have weeks and months with Riley, which then turned into hours and days and that any treatment offered would only buy us a little time.
So we then opted for 2 intense weeks of radiotherapy, which could buy us 4 extra weeks where we would be able to take Riley on a short trip where he wouldn’t likely require medical intervention, as the radiotherapy treatment radiates for a further 2 weeks after treatment hopefully keeping him well.
I wasn’t prepared to lose my son so fast, and felt so lost and desperate. I had to tell Ernst and Mum and Dad, and the thought of how to explain to Lenina that her baby brother was going to be leaving us forever just destroyed me.
We had always planned to have a family holiday together in Disney Paris, and if that was ever going to happen, this would have to be the time. But how? I had no money, couldn’t think straight, how did I start to plan something like this with Riley’s condition, would we get insurance, where would we stay even if we borrowed the money?
I don’t think any of us slept that night after being told that time was definitely not on Riley’s side. We sat up drinking endless coffees, all of us offering ideas and then reasons why they wouldn’t work. Then we took it in turns to break down and cry at what we were actually saying that this was our boy’s last few weeks with us, and how could we plan a happy holiday with this right in front of us.
The next morning Magic actually happened…… A Wish Fairy literally dropped into our lives and our home, sprinkled some magic dust over us all and said that we were all off to Disney Paris next week!! We simply couldn’t believe it! The children’s charity ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ had heard about Riley and overnight had swung into action on our behalf. They had contacted Riley’s doctors, travel agents, Disneyland, EuroStar, even insurance agents, and were all geared up to get us to that Magical holiday we hadn’t dared to breathe about, they only needed the dates.
Suddenly Happiness, Magic, and giddiness all came into play. Eurostar tickets were booked together with overnight accommodation in London at a beautiful hotel. We told Riley and Lenina that we were off to see the Queen in London. I can't fully explain just how magical it was to sit and film the following whilst sat at St Pancras station waiting to go on the Eurostar to Paris, the anticipation was palpable.
Lenina sat on a seat at the station with her brother Riley, we handed her a large envelope which she opened and read a letter the charity had created, asking her and Riley if they would like to go to Disneyland Paris to meet Mickey Mouse. Lenina couldn’t believe it she looked at me for confirmation and squealed “Riley Riley we’re going to go and see Mickey Mouse “at this point Riley took his hand and hit his forehead with excitement , his whole face lit up and melted everyone watching on the platform. We all had tears dripping down our cheeks as the children’s faces would be etched in our hearts forever.
We arrived at the Disneyland Hotel to find Mickey Mouse in reception. Riley had been sat in his specially adapted buggy as he had lost so much weight and tired very easily, but he wrestled himself from the buggy and shuffled up to Mickey who placed his big Mickey Mouse hand on the top of Riley's head and promptly knelt down to greet him and giving him a big squeeze- there was not a dry eye in the house.
It would have been very apparent to anyone watching just how ill Riley really was. He didn’t have any strength or appetite after months on the various chemotherapy drugs; he looked all skin and bone. His once fiery red hair was now just a few wisps and plus his nasal gastric tube in situ, he looked a very sick young boy.
We were shown to a secret lift operated only by our key card. We entered the key into the wall and summon the lift which took us up to a special VVIP check in area to where our rooms were located.
The charity had thought of everything, adjoining rooms with balcony's overlooking the front of the park. We had VVIP passes to everything so we didn’t have to queue. We had access to the park one hour before the general public, and because the characters were based within the hotel, the children didn’t have to wait to meet their beloved Disney characters and fill their autograph books given to them upon check in.
The first night the charity booked Wild Bills Rodeo show, Riley dressed up as Woody and we all got dressed as cowboys and cowgirls ready for the show, we ate out of frying pans and Riley was so excited at the thought of eating like real cowboys that he asked me to remove his food tube for the remainder of the trip so he could eat real food. The Disney Magic was Working!
The next evening we were booked in for a very special Character Dinner where we ate an Amazing Dinner. All the characters appeared in the restaurant, they played with the children and let them hug and squeeze them, and get their autographs and stood patiently while we took dozens of pictures.
The staff were fabulous with both of them, they even arranged after dinner for us to wait inside a special side room and they brought all of the characters in for a special group photo opportunity where pictures were taken with them both it was truly magical.
We took hundreds of photos, and loads of mini video clips which we've made into family movies and adorned our homes with the magical reminders of the fun we had.
Riley stayed well all the time we were in Paris and our memories of this time although tinged with sadness, help to get us through the dark times. We all constantly play the videos and laugh at the antics of the characters with the children, we have photos all around us in every room of Riley smiling and happy, and that vision keeps us all going and helps Lenina remember that she once had a baby brother called Riley.
Sadly a few weeks after the holiday Riley woke me in the early hours to say he was in pain. He was now on regular morphine, and we went to stay at Francis House Childrens Hospice where we had 3 special weeks with him, untill I watched him take his final peaceful breath at 2.11am on Friday 25th May 2012.
I dread to think what that time in our lives would have been like without our special holiday and a chance to create these Magical Memories that will last us forever.
Nothing can prepare you for the loss of a child, but I’m in no doubt that having this special holiday at such a vital point in our lives, when we had no time to fundraise or save for a trip, enabled us to remember all the happy and Magical memories with Riley and his sister, helped us grieve and also helped us find a path to keep going for Lenina and each other.
When You Wish Upon A Star grant Wishes all across the UK for children like Riley. They can only say Yes to families just like ours if they have the money available in the bank.
No one wants this to touch them or their family, or to ever be in the position we were in, but I know who I’d want to ask for help.
Angela Vanzyl ... Riley’s Mum