Claudia Gonzalez Egelhoff

NRF Wish Maker Profile (Jan. 2020)

Claudia's Words of Wisdom & Advice on being a Wish Maker

Being a Wish Maker is not easy, but the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. I love receiving feedback and pictures from the Wishers/young-adult-cancer-warriors as they experience their Wish. With all its ups and downs, I wouldn't trade my Wish Maker experience for anything.

Each Wish is unique; you truly don't know what's coming.

The hardest part is the initial, ice-breaking introduction to the Wisher, which the Wish Maker must initiate.

You definitely need to be flexible, empathetic, and patient as a Wish Maker.

It's easy to get too close to the Wisher; you have to decide how much you're going to get involved. Sometimes you may be the only friendly voice they have to talk to; especially if they've been sent far from home for specialized treatments at some big, pediatric cancer hospital. You need to set limits and establish a kind of invisible wall to protect yourself as a Wish Maker.

The focus must be on the Wisher's joy, not the Wish Maker's joy; things won't always turn out as you expect.

You must be POSITIVE. In communicating, you need to be the LIGHT of JOY, HOPE, and OPPORTUNITY for a desperately needed break from their grueling cancer treatment routine. I strive to have my Wishers know that if I'm contacting them, it's with GOOD News!

I always desire to coordinate the Wish directly with the Wisher, but often I end up making arrangements through a parent or relative; especially if the Wish is to be a surprise. That interaction can be challenging and frustrating at times.

Other Wish Makers, like Kelli Ritschel Boehle, have been Wish-Savers, taking over on short notice when circumstances prevented me from being able to help the Wisher. So, it's very reassuring to know you're not alone as a Wish Maker.

My own wish is that someday soon cures for cancer will eliminate the need for Wish Makers. But until then, we really need your help as a Wish Maker.

How Claudia became a Wish Maker

Claudia works for the Kerry Group, which is an international food ingredient company. She's from Mexico, and started at Kerry in Irapuato, Guanajuato, Mexico. Claudia has a daughter, Andrea and a son, Antonio, better known as Toño. Kerry transferred Claudia and her children to Kansas City, Kansas. There she met and later married Klint Egelhoff, who also works for Kerry. Eventually, Kerry transferred both Claudia and Klint to their Beloit, Wisconsin office. They found a house in Roscoe, Illinois. The kids started High School in the Hononegah school system. When she graduated, Andrea went back to Manhattan, Kansas for college.

Soon after he turned 16, Toño was diagnosed with Leukemia. He went through a series of grueling, painful cancer treatments, including a bone marrow transplant. During Toño's ordeal, Hononegah was fantastic in providing a visiting teacher to help him keep up his studies; they even had that teacher working with the hospital teachers while Toño was receiving treatments in Madison and Milwaukee at children's hospitals. Toño did get a room-makeover wish from Make-A-Wish.

Toño's Wish Day

Pictured in the back: Toño; Andrea; & Wish Coordinator-Tim Charles
Pictured in the front: Klint & Claudia

Tragically, within 10 months of his cancer diagnosis, Toño died on March 16, 2011. Claudia was grief-stricken and remained depressed for at least four years after Toño's passing.

Also working at the Kerry Beloit office was Kelli Ritschel Boehle. Her son, Nik was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma when he was 17. Nik also got a wish from Make-A-Wish. Claudia had seen Kelli at work, but really didn't get to know her until they were assigned to work together on a project. Over lunch at Applebee's, Claudia and Kelli shared their families' cancer battles and found out they had a lot in common. Amazingly, Toño's volunteer Make-A-Wish Wish Coordinator, Tim Charles, was also the Wish Coordinator for Nik.

Almost a year after Toño's passing, Nik died on March 9, 2012. Nik's last wish was for Kelli to grant wishes to young adult cancer warriors who were too old for Make-A-Wish type programs. Kelli soon started the Nikolas Ritschel Foundation (a.k.a Nik's Wish), and Claudia attended the Foundation's very first meeting at Sam's Pizzaria in Rockford. Kelli, her mother Judi, and a handful of Kelli's close friends were there. Their objective was to get more Wish Makers (initially, Kelli & Judi were the only ones) and to plan for their first big fundraising event, a 7K race in October called Nik's Home Run. Claudia, knowing only Kelli and still deeply mourning the loss of Toño, kept quiet during the meeting.

Soon, Kelli volunteered Claudia as a Wish Maker when Kaira Rodriguez was granted a Nik Wish. Kaira, from Puerto Rico, spoke Spanish only. She was in the Boston area for cancer treatments. Her wish was to return to Puerto Rico for a brief visit to surprise her father and brother. Kaira's mother had passed away, so her cousin and aunt were the one handling the surprise-part in Puerto Rico. With Kelli's help, Claudia worked closely with Kaira and her cousin to make all the arrangements for the flight and return trip. One requirement was that Kaira needed a wheelchair. Having just a sister in the states, Kaira was often lonely, and frequently called Claudia just to talk. When it was time for Kaira's flight, Claudia was on a business trip in Ireland. In the middle of a meeting, Claudia received a call from Kaira. She was at the airline ticket counter, but didn't know what to do; the ticket agent did not speak Spanish. Kaira handed her cell phone to the agent and Claudia straightened-out the situation over the phone. Kaira then flew home, met her cousin at the San Juan International Airport, and got to surprise her father and brother just as she had wished.

All of a sudden, Claudia was handling the wishes of all the Spanish speaking Wishers. To date, she has been the Wish Maker for about 19 young adult cancer warriors, many of whom actually do speak English. Klint said that being a Wish Maker has truly helped Claudia through the grieving process over the loss of Toño.

Claudia's Easiest Wish

A young man in the Boston area, who was stuck at home with cancer, wished to have a drone kit. Once he got the drone flying, he sent Claudia dramatic videos taken from the drone as it flew up and down above him, his family, and friends. Another easy wish came from Raúl, who lived on the North Side of Chicago. Raúl requested a custom-built gaming computer containing all the components he specified. Fortunately, Raúl really knew his components and their compatibility; so, he was thrilled to get and start using his amazing, new super gaming computer.

Claudia's Most Difficult Wish

Claudia had booked a trip to Hawaii for John; but, due to his unexpected, immediate need for critical cancer treatments, the trip had to be cancelled. Later, when Claudia was on the road for Kerry, John's father saw the need to suddenly rush the wish through for his son's sake. Fortunately, Kelli was able to take over on super short notice and successfully fulfilled John's wish. Another difficult one was Jennica's Hawaiian Wish. Claudia had scheduled several uniquely Hawaiian events (e.g. a luau) to make Jennica's stay especially memorable. After arriving in Hawaii, Jennica got to do a couple of those events, but soon had a health emergency. She had to be flown by helicopter to the main island for treatment. Jennica texted Claudia, who by chance was also on vacation in Hawaii, attending a friend's wedding on a different island. Sadly, Jennica missed out on all the rest of the scheduled events. But amazingly, while still in the hospital and all by herself, Jennica made the necessary ticket-change arrangements to get back home. All this was an emotional rollercoaster for Claudia, and then a tremendous relief when she finally found out Jennica was fine.

Claudia's Strangest Wish

One of her strangest wishes was for a Hawaiian trip so Micah and his dad could scuba dive in the dark with manta rays. Another was a young woman's request to cruise with her parents down the Mississippi river on an extensive paddleboat excursion of Civil War sites. The cost for this excursion was well over $12,000, which is double the average cost of a Nik Wish. Instead, Claudia made air and land transportation arrangements for a much more affordable Civil War tour of sites near major southern cities. Wheelchair accommodations also had to be made; not for her but for her dad. With all the young adults Claudia had worked with, this vacation wish seemed truly out of the ordinary. Possibly, the loving, obedient daughter sacrificed her Nik Wish in an attempt to bring joy to her parents; or maybe it was just her way of saying thanks for their continual loving sacrifice and support during her cancer battle.