On Monday, 4-year-old Makayla Duda will be on a plane with her family on the way to Florida.
On Monday, 4-year-old Makayla Duda will be on a plane with her family on the way to Florida. The trip is part of a wish granted to Makayla by the Southern Missouri Region of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and came shortly after her family received word that the little girl is now cancer free. Thursday evening, Makayla celebrated her upcoming trip with her family and friends at Ryan’s Buffet in St. Robert. Cindy Major and her daughter Melanie, volunteer wish granters, put on the party for the family. “Makayla is getting her wish to go to Florida,” Major explained before the family arrived. “She actually asked to swim with the dolphins, but she’s a little too small, so she’s going to see the dolphins and interact with them at Discovery Cove.” In early 2011, Makayla was diagnosed with cancer. Her treatment included both chemotherapy and radiation, and her family was relieved when Makayla was given a clean bill of health about two months ago. Makayla’s entire family, including father Craig Cox, mother Jennifer Duda, and younger brother Nikolas Cox, will be joining her on the trip of her young life. Both her parents said they are excited for Makayla to experience Florida and to simply enjoy being a child. “I hope that she just enjoys herself because of everything she went through,” Cox said. “I hope one day she looks back at the pictures and the videos and she decides to contribute back to other kids.” Her mother added, “We’re very excited. I can’t wait to see Makayla’s face when she gets close to the dolphins. I hope that she just realizes how lucky she was and what a gift this is and how giving people can be.” While Makayla’s family appreciates the trip from Make-A-Wish, they have also tried to make her cancer diagnosis into the driving force behind small acts of kindness. Jody Duda, Makayla’s grandmother, said there was an overwhelming outpouring of support for the little girl when her cancer was discovered. She said people began asking her what they could do to help. “We came up with ‘Pay it Forward for Makayla,’” Jody said. “The world can be such an angry place and we just wanted people to go out and do a good deed for Makayla.” She added that the idea went viral on the internet and resulted in a prayer chain and every day acts of good will being performed in Makayla’s name. Jody added that the trip was “an incredible blessing” for both Makayla and her family. Jennifer said after the trip she plans to continue paying it forward any way she can, especially by encouraging education and awareness about childhood cancer. “I just want people to be more open about childhood cancer. It’s not talked about like breast cancer,” she said. “I just want people to be aware of it.” In addition to the trip, Makayla received donations from numerous local businesses, including a limo ride to the party, a spa day from the cosmetology college, free movie popcorn, a dollhouse and coloring books. Major said she was happy to be part of Make-A-Wish and Makayla’s special day. “It’s very rewarding,” she said. “I love it, being able to help kids who have been through so much. We give them a little bit of hope, strength and joy.” For additional information about the Make-A-Wish Foundation or information on how to become involved, visit http://mo.wish.org.