Wishful thinking

Sixteen years ago, Newport resident Teresa Flores faced a doctor’s prediction that, with stage 3 melanoma, she had a 30 percent chance of living five more years.

As she cried and talked to a friend on the phone, her middle son, Travis, stepped forward to console – and inspire – her.

“Travis said, ‘Mommy, you don’t have to die. They told you I would live to be 5, and I’m 6,'” Teresa Flores, now 48, recalled.

The message to never lose hope or abandon one’s dreams, no matter the odds, is one Travis, who has cystic fibrosis, would share with a wider audience when the Make a Wish Foundation granted his request to have his book, “The Spider Who Never Gave Up,” published 10 years ago. And now Travis, 22, hopes to use the anniversary of his own wish being granted to share his story and those of other children, as well as the organization that made it possible.

“I think it’d be really great to give them that feeling I had (of getting something published) and let people enjoy it,” he said.

Although it’s been a decade since he learned his wish had been granted, Travis said getting the book published was a long process. He wants to produce a book with his autobiographical story and works of fiction, nonfiction and art by children whose wishes have been granted to coincide with April’s 10-year anniversary of his first book’s release.

Looking back, Travis said he considered a variety of wishes when the opportunity arose.

“They were all very in-the-moment kind of things, something that I wouldn’t have forever,” he said.

His first instinct went toward the old trick of wishing for a million wishes – but like the genies in many stories, the Make a Wish Foundation wasn’t falling for that one. So Travis tried to come up with “something that even after I’m gone will still be here.”

Travis said that at an early age he understood the gravity of his condition, a genetic disorder, for which there is no cure, that causes the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that leads to life-threatening lung infections, obstructs the pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food. When his mother’s cancer went into remission, he asked her if his disease would as well. She said it didn’t work that way, but there were advancements being made all the time to make living with it easier.

For his wish, Travis turned to the story he’d written at the age of 8 about Sparkey, a young spider who could not spin a web. But he keeps at it, with encouragement from his mother and eventually succeeds.

Make a Wish grants wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich their lives. Travis’ is one that still stands out to Sophia Morton, vice president of programs for the organization’s Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana chapter.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Morton said. “Travis came up with a very unique wish for that time.”

The foundation didn’t simply take Travis’ words and return months later with a finished product. Travis was in regular contact with the people making his wish a reality, including illustrator Michelle Ciappa, who would email him pages for his approval.

From their first meeting, Travis said, he and Ciappa clicked.

“It was like she had already been inside my brain,” he said, recalling the initial sketches she showed him.

Eventually, the book was finished and Travis wound up going on a book tour, signing his work and speaking to children at schools and hospitals. Later, another edition was printed by Disney Worldwide Outreach, leading to more speaking engagements around the country.

On a couple of occasions, he became very ill but refused to cancel, a decision his parents ultimately supported. So he would go out, smiling and going ahead like nothing was wrong, even as IV needles for medication were hidden beneath his shirt. That is what helped spark his interest in acting.

“I put myself in a world that was not my reality, and it helped me get through reality,” he said.

Proceeds from the book’s sales have benefited the Make a Wish Foundation, cystic fibrosis research, cancer research and more. Teresa Flores said the family has even heard from at least two individuals who said it helped them as they struggled with thoughts of suicide.

After four years of school in New York – in which he earned his bachelor’s in acting from Marymount Manhattan College and a master’s in fundraising and grant-making from New York University – Travis is headed across the country with his girlfriend, Chelsea Gentile, for Los Angeles. She’s going to graduate school at the University of Southern California, and Travis plans to pursue various producing, writing and acting projects.

“I’m working very hard right now on an independent film,” he said, describing it as a historical project that involves cystic fibrosis. A Kickstarter account to support it will be launched in the near future.

Meanwhile, Travis’ foundation, formerly known as the Travis Flores Children’s Foundation, is undergoing a rebranding. It will be called Strengthline and focus on providing ways for chronically ill children to communicate with friends and family to provide them the strength they need in their fight. In addition, there are plans to establish an online center for these families to find resources and communicate with each other.