Make A Wish: 'It's not just like a vacation, it's like a victory'

Make A Wish: 'It's not just like a vacation, it's like a victory' »Play Video
At age 2, McKenna fell ill. In a whirlwind of hospital stays, doctors discovered a brain tumor. "They didn't give her much of a chance in the beginning," her mother, Laura, said.

VENETA, Ore. -- A tour of 4-year-old McKenna Matteson's room includes a stop at her closet, a visit with her princess dolls, and a somersault demonstration that makes a mess of her pretty brown hair.

"I think I'll comb my hair now," she said.

But under that thick head of hair is an ugly scar that helped save her life.  At age two, McKenna fell ill. In a whirlwind of hospital stays, doctors discovered a brain tumor.

"They didn't give her much of a chance in the beginning," her mother, Laura, said.

Two surgeries followed, adding up to 28 straight days at the hospital. Then she started chemotherapy.

"With her type of cancer," Laura said, "it is real recurrent. Your best chance is to get every single solitary cell that exists."

That meant harsh radiation that could paralyze half McKenna's face and possibly rob her of most of her hearing.

Her father, Mark, searched desperately for an alternative.

"He said, ‘this isn't acceptable that she is going to have this tough life, if we can do something different. Let's find it!’ and he found it.” Laura explains, “And we brought it to Doernbecher's, and they said ‘Oh yeah, maybe that's a good idea’."

For an entire summer, McKenna and her mother, Laura, lived in Boston as doctors worked to save McKenna's life, without killing her with proton radiation.

"There are effects from radiation," Mark said, "but McKenna can still hear, she can still smile."

"Her hearing is normal," Laura said, "and no one expected that."

When Make-a-Wish came knocking, McKenna knew what she wanted. "Her first wish," Laura said, "was for an elephant."

But then the princess-loving 3-year-old settled on a trip to Disneyland to meet Cinderella.

The Matteson's were treated like royalty, and when McKenna finally saw her princess,  "Everyone held their breath," Laura said, "and she just went up to Cinderella and kept patting her face and was touching her gown. Cinderella was everything to McKenna."

"The best of that was watching and realizing, she's still here," Mark said.

Meeting Cinderella is McKenna's most vivid memory. The magical vacation was medicine they didn't know they needed.

"Without it we couldn't have had that re-bonding time for our family," Laura said. "It's not just like a vacation, it's like a victory."

And instead of an elephant, McKenna got a dog and a real chance at a full life.