New book shares 21 child cancer patients’ dreams with stories and art

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JONATHAN DIAZ
JP Gibson, makes a legendary dunk as a player for the Utah Jazz. (Jonathan Diaz)

William Wainwright was one several young pediatric cancer patients living the life of a celebrity as fans lined up with books in hand, waiting for autographs and pictures at the Provo Library on Sept. 12.

William has battled leukemia for four years and will complete his final round of chemotherapy in the upcoming months. His is one of many stories brought to light in the book, “True Heroes: A Treasury of Modern Day Fairy Tales.”

Founder of the Anything Can Be Project Jonathan Diaz illustrated the book with photography. Nearly two dozen authors, including Shannon Hale, Brandon Mull, Ally Condie and Jennifer A. Nielsen, wrote the stories in the book.

Diaz gained a passion for photography when his mother gave him a Nikon camera for Christmas in 2011. Since then, he has turned his hobby into a profession. Diaz spent his weekends and evenings photographing 21 pediatric cancer patients acting out their wildest dreams, each photoshoot lasting two to three hours.

Diaz spent 20 to 30 hours in Photoshop for each image, capturing the patient’s fantasies and pairing them with original short stories by the authors.

The library hosted a book launch party for National Children’s Cancer Awareness month, September. Each author introduced him- or herself and explained their contributions to the book. The children then signed books.

“It wasn’t until I walked up to the panel and looked over the audience that I realized just how many supporters came,” Diaz said. “I was blown away. All the seats were full, and people had to stand in the back.”

William Wainwright signs books and photos of himself being a true hero. (Sarah Shepherd)

Karen Zelnick, marketing manager at Shadow Mountain Publishing, said public response has been great.

“How could it not be with a book like this?” Zelnick said. “A book that has so much heart and has the potential to do so much good in a world that doesn’t always get to see the good amidst the bad.”

“I think it’s a great book, not only for these families and other families in similar situations, but for everyone looking for hope.”

Sixth-grade teacher Traci Parkinson has been fighting breast cancer for the past nine months. “I can’t help but tear up when I read some of these stories,” she said. “Cancer is painful and exhausting. It’s something I wouldn’t wish upon anybody.”

Parkinson was moved by the courage and spirit of the children. “To see these children so happy even when many of them have terminal forms of cancer helps me see the good in my own life,” she said.

Diaz said he had zero expectations about the book’s success, but he realized it had potential when Deseret News covered a story on his work and Shadow Mountain called him, asking to publish his book.

Diaz started the Anything Can Be Project with one intention: to bring happiness to those desperate for it.

“Aside from everything, this book has changed lives, and that is a real success,” Diaz said.

“The uniqueness of the project is how perfectly the stories captured the beauty of each child’s individual courage and imagination,” said Lisa Magnum, managing editor at Shadow Mountain. “The photographs are amazing; the stories are amazing. Combined, the two elements created something magical that has stayed with me long after I finished my work on it.”

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