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How Do You Say No To a Kid With Cancer?

By Rebecca Odes |

ina garten barefood contessa

Is Ina Garten busy with book signings like this one?

Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten has gotten herself into a bit of a PR pickle this week.  The celebrity chef apparently received a request from Enzo, a 6 year old boy with terminal cancer who had become a fan of her Food Network show while watching it in bed with his mom. When Enzo, who has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, was contacted by The Make a Wish Foundation, he wished to make a meal with the Barefoot Contessa. Ina Garten turned him down—TWICE.

Ina’s people cited “Scheduling Conflicts” on both occasions. But her rejection has spurred a certain amount of outrage. How can you not make time for someone who has so little time left—a child, no less? And a child who, when given the choice of anyone on the planet, chooses YOU? Enzo, tragically, supposedly asked his parents, “Why doesn’t she want to meet me?”

Apparently this kind of celebrity snubbing happens a lot more often than one might hope.

When TMZ took the matter up with the Make a Wish Foundation, here’s what they said: “From time to time, planning for wishes doesn’t turn out as originally envisioned, despite people’s best intentions and efforts throughout the wish-granting process.” When the story was posted on Gawker, a commenter reiterated this, saying she’d worked at the Make a Wish Foundation and that wishes are turned down fairly frequently.  Often, she said, it’s a matter of the celebrities’ handlers poor communication. Sometimes, it really is a “scheduling conflict”, and sometimes, who knows, maybe it’s just a celebrity who doesn’t feel like dealing with it.

Maureen O’ Connor at Gawker asks whether it’s really ethical to expect celebrities to pony up with themselves just because they’re asked: “Why should Make-A-Wish get to choose random celebrities and hold them hostage in a prison of public opinion until they agree to hang out with some random kid, anyway?” but she goes on to answer her own question with “Oh, right. Terminally ill pediatric cancer patient, heartbroken and bereft, wants one tiny favor to give his tragically short life the tiniest piece of joy in its final hour. You really can’t say [no? sic] to that. Ever.”

Apparently you can—and I’m not sure you shouldn’t be able to. It’s beyond heartbreaking to think of a dying child, period. But a dying child’s dying request being turned down? Come ON.Still, how can it not happen? These wishes don’t happen in a vacuum. They involve other people, busy, important, self-important people. Our obsession with celebrity gives famous people the superpower of making people happy with their very presence. But they have not been imbued with super-morals, or even super-generosity.

Perhaps just because this is the kind of neg-head I am, this is something I’ve always wondered about the Make a Wish Foundation. What happens if the wish is impossible? What happens, it seems, is that the child is encouraged to make another wish. That’s what happened with Enzo when he was turned down the first time, but he stuck to his guns, saying he wanted to wait for Garten to be available.

Note to commenter who said: “a 6-year old’s dearest wish is for time with a tv cook? I ain’t buying it. This is mom or dad’s wish, not the kid’s.” You obviously haven’t spent any time with children in the age of the celebrity chef. There are legions of kids for whom cooking shows are a primary source of entertainment. Still,  maybe you’ll be more satisfied with the more stereotypically childlike choice Enzo eventually settled on once Ina rejected him AGAIN (for real, Ina? I get that you’re busy, but the kid asks you TWICE and you can’t work it out?) Enzo has now decided he wants to swim with dolphins. I’m betting his parents are pretty relieved about this one. It may require travel and training, but at least there’s a low possibility of rejection.

[via TMZ, Gawker]

photo: Therealbs2002/wikimedia commons

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About Rebecca Odes


Rebecca Odes

Rebecca Odes is a writer, artist and mother. She was inspired to write her blog, From The Hips, during her first pregnancy when she discovered every pregnancy book she came across made her feel anxious or irritated. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

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0 thoughts on “How Do You Say No To a Kid With Cancer?

  1. Steve R. says:

    What is wrong with this woman? Even if she says her schedule wont let her hang out with him, she cant even send him a care package or some books or hey, how about an email that takes five minutes? As a single dad we have watched her show and now get to explain why she is banned from our living room and will make a point to explain how a house in the Hamptons and BMW’s and rich friends mean nothing without a heart. I totally believe the kid wanted to meet her, four year olds are obsessed with Mike Rowe, so a nice (seemingly) lady cooking comfort food is very plausible. Ina grosses me out and I feel stupid for using one of her recipes for a special occasion a few years back and telling people about it.

  2. Cynde Knutson says:

    As a MAW family. You really missed the mark on this one.

    I can tell you from experience that MAW goes out of its way to ensure that the “Wish” is the child’s not the parents. We were even kindly/tactfully warned prior to the interview to let the MAW interview be done without undue influence on our part. They interview the child and if the child is young as in Enzo’s case then the “Wish is uncovered in that process buy asking him/her their likes and dislikes.

    In our daughter’s case she was newly adopted from another country and there was a bit of a language barrier. MAW went out of their way to discover what she liked through several interviews. She was princess for a day in Disney- World.

    We were told that often celebrities are not available due to various factors but,
    we had three wishes in case her first one wasn’t available as these wishes do require time and a ton of coordination. We were told over and over that the wish might not be available. In fact after the interviews they come back to the family and tell you which of the three wishes are available and then YOU choose.

    We were offer no explanation of why something wasn’t available and the volunteer didn’t know why something wasn’t available. This is done so the child and family isn’t disappointed and is a built in protection for those who choose not to participate.

    I can only assume that the family, doctors and MAW decided to wait for Ms. Garten when she declined the first time due to a scheduling conflict. Leading me to believe that either she or her handlers lead the MAW organization to believe she would be available at a later date. Obvious she wasn’t. She could have said no from the start and this poor child and family would have moved on.

    I also don’t understand that if she wasn’t available or didn’t want to meet the child or family, that she didn’t send send a video message and/or some items from her cooking collection and perhaps arrange some cooking lessons with someone else. It’s not like she couldn’t have done something. Compromise is always possible.

    Personally I’m appalled that she said no to any involvement especially since Enzo’s been waiting. Obviously I’m not alone and Ms. Garten is suffering the consequences of public opinion. If she had indeed been held in emotional “HOSTAGE” by MAW, which knowing how they work-I’m not buying, then I might feel sorry for her.

    Her future as a celebrity is perhaps now as terminal as Enzo’s Leukemia. I’m hoping for a full recovery for Enzo.

  3. Amy says:

    As a huge fan of the Contessa I will no longer support her or her show after reading she denied little Enzo his wish. Although, it us understandable you can’t grant all wishes, this little boy has been patient and waited a year to meet you. Shame on you Contessa!

  4. marj says:

    Its a choice like anything else. You can say no, and everyone can think you are heartless. I mean, being a kind person is not even clos to a requirement for celebrity.

  5. Rebecca C says:

    It’s okay Enzo, she just would have lectured you about only using “good” ingredients the whole time anyway.

  6. Erin says:

    As a former childhood cancer patient myself who was once snubbed by the singer I was most enthralled with (Michael Bolton), my heart goes out to this child. I 100% believe this was his wish and not his parents’– inspiration comes in all forms when a person is in the biggest fight of his/her life.

  7. handel says:

    So Rebecca, it is OK for TMZ to post this on their website and have 1000 plus comments (90% which are disgusting, vile) about Ina’s looks, her husband, her gay friends, her cooking, and where she lives. all of which are irrelevant to the subject. TMZ owes her a big apology to this poor woman for stirring the pot. How many other celebrities say no and we know nothing about it. These people who are posting these comments are seriously in need of anger management and can only hope that whatever they are wishing for Ina come back to haunt them.

  8. Judith Rushing says:

    This rejection of Enzo’s wish really hit home as my granddaughter is undergoing the same treatment for Leukemia. God bless them both.
    Chloe’s grandma, a former fan of Ina Gartner’s.

  9. Diane says:

    Yes Handel, when you’re a public figure who enjoys celebrity at the pleasure of that public who watches your shows and buys your merchandise, and you’re enriched by that, then you also face the consequences of that public turning on you when you behave deplorably. I for one will NEVER watch her show or buy her merch again, and apparently many feel likewise.

    I find it interesting that you have such profound sympathy for the healthy adult “celebrity”, and so little for a vulnerable cancer stricken child who requested the time of an unwilling adult – I mean the nerve of him!

    As far as the below the belt comments on th TMZ site, unfortunately, callousness on the scale that Ina Garten has shown is rare and has triggered visceral reactions in people that has brought out the lowest common denominator in some. All fruits of her decisions- or her PR people. Either way, the child suffers the most.

  10. Steve R. says:

    For some reason it never occurred to me that she really led him on making it seem like she would do it and he waited and waited watching every day thinking he was going to meet her and THEN she said “definite no.” All the while he could have had one of his other wishes.
    Wow, that is just completely heartbreaking. I really dont think she ever had any intention of doing it and should have said so at the start.
    I have gone from banning her from our television to wanting to get on the bandwagon to get her fired. Theres an L.A Times article about it and one of the commenters has all these email addresses and phone numbers to get her off the air.

  11. Max says:

    Anyone who is human has disappointed others. And you can bet your bottom dollar they would be offended, nay, outraged if this childish temper tantrum was throw in their direction. Glass houses…..

  12. gem says:

    anyone who has children know that plenty of children actually like cooking show my son and daughter like watching cooking show’s like cake boss and chopped even challenge and cupcake wars, they even like to help bake in the kitchen my son is 10 and my daughter is 6. she pretends she is on chopped and puts all kinds of stuff in a bowl and tells us to try it. we think it’s great i don’t think the parents put him up to it maybe he will be a chef one day. and he will remember the children and never forget how happy children can be with just the slightest recognition. i feel sorry for the barefoot contessa if she really didnt say that or mean it that way. but if she did we all know where she is going in the after life. god will deal with her later

  13. Sarah says:

    I am appalled to hear this! I am not going to watch Ina’s show anymore because of this. Poor kid, wow. Can’ you imagine how he must feel? I don’t know what he has but I was born with a heart defect and doctors didn’t think I’d make it to 5 years old. Four years ago I had two open heart surgeries, when I found out about Make A Wish I was too old! I would be devistated if someone said no to me! My make a wish is to meet “Micky Dolenz” from The Monkees! and or Rachel Ray, I wonder how busy she is if she would ever meet with someone. Well the surgeries I went through has prolonged my life span. I feel for this little boy. I also want to swim with dolphins, I hope he gets this wish.. and posts pictures!

  14. vonUexkuell says:

    Oh please. Ina has every right not to feel obligated to a complete stranger destined to oblivion in near future. What presumption. Cut the woman some slack, people.

    He’s not even Jewish, for Christ’s sake.

  15. Mike says:

    The only people that should be allowed to have an opinion on this is Ina Garten and the family. No one can possibly have an unbiased and legitimate opinion on the controversy without being involved. Keep your opinions to yourself, dont believe everything you read, and dont comment if you dont know the entire background story. How do you know that Ina Garten has a past with cancer and it would be too painful for her to be with Enzo? How do you know that Ina was the one that rejected him, and her representatives werent the ones that pulled the plug? We’ve all been told since we were little to mind our own business and not jump to any conclusions. The choice is Ina’s, and we can not know the entire story.

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