LIHUE — When Apryl Erickson moved to Kauai as a 15-year-old with her family, she had a difficult time staying in school.
Not because she’s not outgoing — she has personality to spare. Talented as well, the amateur gourmet cook loves photography and people who share her passion.
It was because she was sick.
“It was so lonely,” said Apryl, who felt so run down after arriving with her parents, Evi and Paul Erickson, she ended up taking so many sick days she was placed on the school’s “truancy watch.”
She was on island just a few weeks when her back pain grew severe and she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system that compromises the body’s ability to fight infection. Even with a high survivability rate, Apryl’s advanced cancer had reached her lungs, chest and neck. She underwent chemo therapy and radiation over six months.
“She was at stage four and it was already in her bones,” Evi recalled.
The hardest part was having to homeschool for a semester. It was difficult but necessary to ensure she wasn’t exposed to anything, which led to the loneliness. The side effects of the treatment threw off her taste, too, which was difficult for a spicy food lover. But worse, she was constantly cold from her compromised immune system.
“It would be 90 degrees out and I would be freezing,” she said. “I brought blankets everywhere, I was so cold.”
Two years later, Apryl, now a 17-year-old Kalaheo resident and Kauai High School senior, has emerged from a two-year battle with the disease, which she attributes to her faith as well as the jolt of hope she received planning and traveling on her Make-A-Wish Hawaii trip to Paris.
The idea for the excursion — where she cooked with French chefs and posed for professional photos in front of the Eiffel Tower — came to be when Apryl was undergoing treatments at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children on Oahu. The nurses let her know she was eligible for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
So Apryl began brainstorming. What helped that process, the Cooking Channel was a great distraction for Apryl from chemotherapy, and turned out to be one reason she chose Paris. Photography was the other. After all, there might not be a more photogenic city than The City of Love.
“I wanted to take cooking classes and to get my senior picture taken in Paris,” Apryl said.
Make-A-Wish took care of the details. They approved her request to bring her best friend, Madison Peak, 17, of Boulder, Colorado, who was also recovering from a health battle.
“I can’t say enough amazing things about Apryl,” said Make-A-Wish Hawaii President and CEO Siana Austin Hunt. “She just has this tremendous heart.”
Out of school for a year, she said planning the Paris trip was a big part of recovery. It was also a relief from the pain and nausea of treatment. Another support system for Apryl was through her friends at Kauai Christian Fellowship.
When Apryl and Madison got to Paris, her parents let them stay in their own room.
This made the trip more special as two separated best friends got together to laugh and share adventures.
“The trip met my expectations and beyond,” Apryl said. “Everyone I worked with at Make-A-Wish was super nice and I have made lifetime friends.”
The two met with a professional photographer to get their senior pictures taken at the Eiffel Tower. This was followed by three hours of photos shoots with family and friends.
The following day Apryl met with another photographer to provide her with photography tips. They toured back streets and cafes, the cheese and butcher shops, old houses and their walled gardens. It was a dream come true for Apryl, who has studied photography for three years and worked on the school year book staff.
“The little things made it all so significant,” Apryl said.
France, known for its food, made it all the more ideal. Apryl enjoyed a cooking class with a chef from La Cuisine Paris. Another highlight was the Galeries Lafayette, an upscale French department store that has an entire floor dedicated to handbags. They got last-minute tickets to attend the national opera at the Palais Garnier. Apryl, a dancer for 10 years, said it was an awesome experience — except the jet lag caught up with her in the dark opera house and she fell asleep.
“This whole thing was an uplifting experience,” Evi said.
••• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or by emailing email@example.com.
This past year a record 65 wishes were granted to children across the state. Around 40 kids from Kauai have taken part in Make-A-Wish over the past 10 years. Four more are actively planning their wish experience this year.
Around 976 children have made their wish to come to Hawaii last year. About 20 kids came to the surf camp in Hanalei, with 500 more visiting Oahu, including 40 to attend the NFL Pro Bowl, and 300 visiting the volcano on the Big Island.
“Hawaii is the second most requested destination wish after Disney World,” Hunt said. “We are a unique chapter in that we grant wishes that originate here in Hawaii, and we also support children who wish to come here and that makes us the busiest chapter in the country.”
The mission is to grant wishes to children facing a life threatening medical condition. It used to be exclusively for terminal patients, but expanded it after finding that a wish goes a long way to aiding in the recovery from a serious illness. The children can choose a material item, a destination, or to meet someone, usually a celebrity, who means something to them.