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Make-A-Wish gives Carter Mitchell chance to create new family traditions after battle with leukemia

A blood test Oct. 1, 2014, showed Carter had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The next three and a half years would be spent in and out of the hospital.

Carter Mitchell was 7 when he suddenly was unable to walk.

For months, Carter’s parents, Matt and Melissa, received one missed diagnosis after another and anguished over many unanswered questions.

X-rays showed no broken bones, yet Carter had to use a wheelchair to get around school. Pediatric arthritis was discussed but ruled out. Finally, an emergency visit to the hospital revealed the diagnosis the Mitchells were desperate to get but never dreamed of receiving.

A blood test on October 1, 2014, showed Carter had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The next three and a half years would be spent in and out of the hospital.

“He had a grandmother who passed away from cancer just a year before he was diagnosed,” Melissa said. “His immediate concern was, ‘Am I going to die from this?’ ”

Matt and Melissa reassured their son, who celebrated his eighth birthday in the hospital just days after his diagnosis, that he would get better. They also spent time reassuring themselves.

“It took a very long time,” Matt said. “A couple of weeks to get my head around the idea of three and a half years of treatment, chemo and everything he was about to go through. The feeling that you just have no control anymore.”

The Make-A-Wish Foundation approached Matt and Melissa early in Carter’s treatment process. When he was nearing his final treatment, they decided it was the right time to have his wish granted.

Carter’s wish was to travel with his family to Italy, a place where he could indulge in his love of history and cooking. He explored landmarks in Italy, including the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, but his favorite day was spent learning to make pasta from scratch.

He’s always loved to cook with his family at their home in Bolingbrook, so Make-A-Wish arranged a private cooking class for Carter and his family. The experience was so memorable that the Mitchells made it a tradition to recreate that same meal at home.

“That was probably one of the best days,” Carter said.

“Those are memories we’re going to have forever,” Melissa said.

In October, Carter’s journey with leukemia connected him to Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano through Tackle Cancer, a partnership program involving the Bears, Chicago Sun-Times, Make-A-Wish Foundation and CDW.

“I think it’s awesome that he’s helping people get through what he went through,” Carter said of Pagano, who had his own fight with leukemia in 2012. “Helping people that had cancer and kids that had cancer — it’s [special].”

For three and a half years, the Mitchells walked by a bell at Lurie Hospital. The sound it makes echoes through the halls and sends cheers along with it. It’s the bell patients ring when they complete their final treatment, and on March 20, 2018, Carter was able to ring it himself.

“Throughout our years, we saw other kids get to ring that bell,” Matt said. “It was just something to say, ‘Hey that kid did it, now your time is coming.’ And then that day comes.”