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Gegen's wish comes true: With a clean bill of health, 6-year-old John Gegen took his family on a week-long trip to Hawaii

John Gegen is pictured in the middle during a family vacation to Hawaii, which was made possible by Make-A-Wish Minnesota. He is pictured with his parents Jon and Shelly and his brothers Michael and Jeffrey. Submitted photo

While 6-year-old John “Mikko” Gegen fought his cancer in a room at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, he had a big decision to make. The Hastings boy had been told by Make-A-Wish Minnesota that he’d be able to ask for anything he wanted for him and his family. They told him to wish big, and that was something that John was having a hard time grasping.

Then, inspiration came in the way of a poster.

“When he was getting his stem cell transplant, he saw on another patient’s door that his wish was granted to go to Hawaii,” said John’s mother Shelly. “That’s what got him thinking about Hawaii.”

Soon after, John told Make-A-Wish representatives that his wish was take his family on a vacation to Hawaii.

“It gave us something to look forward to as we were going through the process,” Shelly Gegen said. “As he went through treatment and as we were going through unpleasant things, we kept saying, ‘Just think about July when we get to go to Hawaii.’ It gave us all hope and something to look forward to.”

Just a few weeks ago, the family took the seven-day all-expenses-paid trip. They were picked up in limousines, they had a two-room oceanside suite, they snorkeled, went on a submarined ride, did a full-day guided tour of volcanoes, swam with dolphins and went to a luau.

“I told the kids, ‘Don’t get used to traveling like this,’” Shelly Gegen said. “We were spoiled the whole time.”

All the while, Jon and Shelly watched their son act like a normal 6-year-old. That time had finally come. He had finished treatment in May and all of his scans looked good. Not only was the trip just a great time for the family, but it came with such promise — darker days were behind them, brighter ones were ahead.

“We were just a family on vacation — we didn’t have any other concerns,” Shelly Gegen said. “Nobody would know anything different by looking at John. He’s healthy, happy and was swimming like a fish.”

John tried snorkeling, he went off the diving board and appeared to be packing about a year’s worth of fun into just seven days.

“He’s totally making up for lost time,” Shelly Gegen said. “It was the best feeling ever. It’s almost like watching a baby do something for the first time. When you see your child walk for the first time, you know how you feel? It’s like all those things all over again. It was amazing, with everything he’s gone through, that he has endured.

“He’s a blessing and a miracle to us, really.”

Late many nights, Jon and Shelly would take all three of their sons (including Michael and Jeffrey) down to the swimming pool at the resort. It was quieter then, and since the pool was open all night long, it seemed like a nice time to go. Getting John out, though, was never easy.

“I’d try to get him out, and he’d say, ‘After everything I went through to get my family here, you’re not going to let me swim?’” Shelly said. “So, then, I would let him swim. He would just beam. We kept telling him, ‘John — thank you so much for bringing us here.’ He loved that, too.”

Shelly Gegen said the family is incredibly thankful for the staff at Make-A-Wish Minnesota, who all worked hard to arrange the trip.

“They took such good care of us,” she said. “All we had to worry about was showing up and having fun. There’s no way we would have ever been able to go on that trip if it wasn’t for Make-A-Wish.”

The future

On Tuesday morning, the Gegens left for Grand Rapids, Mich., where John is going to be enrolled in a clinical trial.

There is a risk of relapse with his cancer, called neuroblastoma, and the trial medication aims to help reduce that risk.

“With John’s cancer, there’s still a high risk of relapse,” Shelly Gegen said. “We’re doing anything we can to help prevent that.”

Starting in September, John will be able to get the same treatment at Gillette Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.

CureSearch Walk

Shelly Gegen’s family will be participating in the Twin Cities CureSearch Walk in September to help raise funds for childhood cancer research. Readers can visit her page at to learn more about the CureSearch Walk.