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Hunter Bjorkquist receives a notice from Sandi Riley, a wish granter, that he is the 600th Make-a-Wish recipient in Wyoming, on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, at Buffalo Wild Wings in Cheyenne. Bjorkquist and his family will travel to Wisconsin this week to meet the Green Bay Packers, his favorite team since he was a kid. Nadav Soroker/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Like many teenagers, Hunter Bjorkquist woke up on his 16th birthday and spent the morning getting his driver’s license.

That afternoon, Dec. 27, 2017, he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. While this news wasn’t the worst Hunter could have received, since he and his family were told “if there was the type of (cancer) you could be diagnosed with, this was it,” but it’s not exactly the way someone wants to ring in such a milestone birthday.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system, the disease-fighting system in a person’s body.

“Hunter had come home one day from school, complaining of a migraine,” said his mother, Nicki Bjorkquist. “I wondered if he’d gotten hurt at wrestling practice, but he said he didn’t. He finally told us that he thought he might have gotten a concussion at practice, and he went to school and he came home pretty quickly because the lights were bothering him.”

For a healthy teenage boy who wrestled and played football, something wasn’t right.

Hunter ended up in the emergency room with his parents, spending four-and-a-half hours there, going through tests and talking with doctors. It was theorized that Hunter had pulled a muscle in his neck during practice, causing his intense headaches. But they decided a CT scan might clear up some of the questions.

It did, but it ended up causing a new set of them. The scan revealed that Hunter had a mass blocking half of his airway. The Bjorkquists made their way to Denver, trying to figure out what was wrong with Hunter. They found out on Christmas Eve that he had lymphoma, but a biopsy would need to be done to find out what kind.

Which is how Hunter spent his 16th birthday, after just getting his license, having a biopsy done to find out what type of cancer he had. What a celebration.

But Hunter didn’t let this diagnosis get him down. He kept going to school, only missing days when he wasn’t in Cheyenne due to doctors’ appointments. He got his grandpa’s truck, so he continued going out with friends and trying to live like any 16-year-old.

One of his favorite activities was watching the Green Bay Packers with his dad and some of his friends. Tom Bjorkquist is a lifelong fan, being from the Michigan area, and he passed that love on to his son.

Like many children throughout the country, the Make- a-Wish Foundation heard about Hunter’s story. They reached out to the family, and Hunter made his wish: getting the chance to meet the Green Bay Packers.

It’s been a tough 18 months for the Bjorkquist family, for sure. The bright side of the whole situation was that it brought them closer together, teaching them to cherish every moment they spent together.

Sunday morning, Hunter got the surprise of a lifetime from his family and Make-a-Wish at a surprise party held at Buffalo Wild Wings. He was told that he’d fly out of Denver on Wednesday and head to Wisconsin. For the rest of the week, he and his family will go sightseeing and partake in numerous activities.

Next Sunday, his wish will be granted. He will meet the Packers and watch them take on the Denver Broncos at their home stadium, Lambeau Field. He looked stunned through the entire conversation, both excited and surprised by the secrecy that had surrounded this event just for him.

“I walked inside and see my mom and balloons and thought, ‘Wait a second,’” Hunter said, laughing. “I’m so excited. I had no idea this was happening. My favorite player from the Packers got traded to the Rams, but I can’t wait to meet Aaron Rodgers (the team’s quarterback). He’s the real GOAT (greatest of all time), not Tom Brady.”

Wish granter Sandi Riley from the Make-a-Wish Foundation was incredibly grateful to be involved with surprising Hunter with the news that he would get to meet his favorite football team Sunday. As a mom who also had a young son diagnosed with cancer, she knows what a struggle this journey can be.

“These kids are going to doctors’ appointments, going through treatment, and being poked and prodded all the time,” she said. “It really affects their childhood. But it’s not just the kids who are affected, it’s the entire family. This can be so draining. With a case like this that has a happy ending, it’s just so inspiring to see.”

Hunter believes he’s managed to recover so well (he’s currently in remission, but will likely have to be checked for cancer around once a year for the rest of his life) due to keeping a positive attitude, and the support of his family and friends.

“You really learn who cares about you when you go through something like this,” he said. “I just knew that I couldn’t let this get me down. So I kept going every day, tried to not let it bother me so much, and had my friends behind me the whole way. I’m grateful.”

Ellen Fike is a freelance writer living in Cheyenne. She can be reached at elfylucille@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EllenLFike.

Ellen Fike is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s features editor. She can be reached at efike@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3135. Follow her on Twitter @EllenLFike

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