JaMarcus Bentley could ask to go anywhere, do anything. That's how the Make-A-Wish Foundation works.
Children with life-threatening medical conditions are asked to list their two biggest wishes. The foundation then attempts to make one of them come true. Since it began in 1980, the organization has granted more than 175,000 wishes nationwide, or one every 40 minutes.
So as the 18-year-old Bentley spent much of the past two years inside T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma, he wished to take a family cruise or take in WrestleMania 25.
"I want to see John Cena," said Bentley with a small smile Wednesday afternoon. "He's amazing."
Just in case you're like a certain sports writer I've known my entire life and you're unfamiliar with WrestleMania 25, perhaps it's best to simply repeat the description on its website, which states:
"In celebration of a global phenomenon that has forever changed the world of sports and entertainment, only a state the size of Texas can host more than 70,000 fans from 24 countries, including all 50 states and seven Canadian provinces, to witness the 25th anniversary of WrestleMania. As history prepares to descend upon Houston's Reliant Stadium April 5, 2009. WWE.com is your front-row, box-seat destination to relive all the history, the glory and the spectacle befitting the Grandest Stage of Them All."
How's a little old ocean cruise supposed to compete with that?
So Make-A-Wish called Bentley a couple of weeks ago and told him that he and his family needed to pack their bags for WrestleMania 25. They'll fly out of Chattanooga on Friday morning and return Monday night.
"Neither one of us has ever been on a plane before," said JaMarcus's mother, LaTasha Watkins. "We know we're going to WrestleMania, but they're keeping us in the dark about some other stuff."
Cancer keeps everyone in the dark. Bentley's is now in remission, though it will be at least two more years before the family can begin to feel confident that he's beaten it.
But two years ago this month was far different for JaMarcus, who prefers to be called Marcus in the halls of Tyner Academy.
"Marcus has asthma," his mother recalled. "He was having chest pains so we went to the doctor. He usually gives Marcus steroids when he has trouble breathing, but this time he gave him an inhaler. He didn't get any better, though. He was having night sweats and losing weight."
On March 19, 2007, LaMarcus and his mother headed for the emergency room at Erlanger. X-rays were taken. A doctor soon appeared, asking LaTasha, "Let me show you something."
Even without the doctor's explanation, LaTasha could see immediately that something was wrong. A mass was visible in front of her son's heart.
"We spent the next year and a half on the oncology floor," she said.
Because her grandparents had been big fans of professional wrestling, LaTasha had often attended matches at Memorial Auditorium. So as he endured the chemotherapy, JaMarcus began to embrace such wrestling icons as Rick Flair, Marlena, the Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Batista and Cena.
"It's on four nights a week," said LaTasha. "It's easy to become a fan."
It's easy to become a fan of LaMarcus, who has such a flair for art that a watercolor of a playground that he painted in elementary school wound up in former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker's office. Like most of today's youth, he's a big fan of both Tiger Woods and tennis divas Serena and Venus Williams.
And showing an artistic touch for more than paints, LaMarcus was voted the best dressed guy at Tyner's prom last week when he arrived wearing a black tux, top hat, red tie and vest and carrying a cane.
"Marcus has always been kind-hearted," said his mother. "But this has taught him to take nothing for granted. I think one reason he went to the prom was because he wasn't sure he'd be able to go next year."
And given that uncertainty, it wasn't hard for LaTasha to point to one wish she hopes has come true.
"Two or three months ago," she said. "When they took an X-ray of Marcus's chest and the doctor said (of the tumor), 'It's not there anymore.'"
E-mail Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com