EVERETT – Addison Schmidt couldn’t believe it. She was in a special section during an audience at St. Peter’s Square and now Pope Francis was standing in front of her.
“The meeting with him was really overwhelming. He had a bright smile on his face,” said Addison, an 18-year-old brain cancer survivor from Immaculate Conception Parish in Everett.
After looking forward to this trip for months, the Archbishop Murphy High School senior couldn’t find anything to say — or even snap a selfie. She simply shook the pope’s hand, received his blessing and watched him move on.
It was a long way from March 2015, when Addison was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, followed by surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital and six weeks of radiation treatment.
“Through her surgery and radiation, she never allowed fear to enter in. Her grace in dealing with it all was a true answer to our prayers,” said Addison’s mother, Kim Schmidt. “She had people praying for her all over the world, and we as a family were so grateful to each and every one of them.”
Initially, Addison continued attending classes during radiation treatments, but took a break when the combined stress became too overwhelming, Kim Schmidt said. Then came the call from Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington, which grants wishes for young people with life-threatening medical conditions.
“It was a total surprise to us when Make-A-Wish called,” Kim Schmidt said.
Sisters Addison, left, and Annie Schmidt shared a special moment in front of the Bernini fountain in St. Peter’s Square. Photo: Courtesy Schmidt family
Now the challenge for Addison was trying to come up with her deepest desire. “When someone tells you that you can have anything you wish for, it’s really hard to narrow it down,” she said.
Addison said she has always wanted to travel, most especially to Italy to see Pope Francis. But the wish to actually meet the pontiff seemed too big, her mother said. Just seeing Pope Francis from a distance in Rome would have been enough.
But the local Make-A-Wish chapter made it happen. Details for the March 12-20 trip were worked out with Make-A-Wish in Italy, said Jessica Mathews, the local nonprofit’s communications manager. (Donations pay the cost of granting wishes, Mathews said.)
Addison traveled to Rome with her parents, Bill and Kim Schmidt, and her 22-year-old sister, Annie. The sisters sat in a special section for people who are sick and suffering; their parents sat about 20 rows back. As cries of “Papa! Papa!” rang out, Pope Francis paused to speak with people near Addison, then greeted Annie and then Addison.
Besides seeing the pope, the Schmidts, who live in Marysville, toured St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Tivoli Fountain. “It was a special moment for the family and it was a trip that I think only Make-A-Wish could do,” Kim Schmidt said.
Now the family is back to reality. Addison, who has an MRI every three months to monitor for any recurrence of cancer, is eager to graduate in June and start college this fall.
“I feel like life is so precious and Pope Francis is so into helping the sick and the poor,” the teenager said. “I want to go into psychology to help kids who are going through what I went through, so they’re not alone.”
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