My Three Wishes

CLEMSON - Cancer first touched the life of freshman guard Tanner Smith at two years old when his father Craig was diagnosed with stage four, Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

By the time Tanner was three his father had been to a hospital in Nebraska for a bone marrow transplant which turned out to be both good and bad.

The good news was the cancer seemed to have been beaten.

The bad news was even though Craig's sister was the bone marrow donor, Craig had developed a condition called Graft versus Host disease.

Graft versus Host disease is a condition in which the white blood cells from the donor live in the body, constantly attacking it, slowly but surely breaking it down.

You can imagine the amount of time Craig had to spend away from his young son during treatment, not to mention the caution a young boy had to treat his dad with and the pressure of just not knowing what the future would hold. But the funny thing about life is that so often through adversity brings out the best in some people. "Some people," is exactly what Tanner Smith has become.

When Smith was in the fourth grade he was given a writing assignment in which he was to express his hopes for the future. It was a day in which his mother Kathy said was "just one of those days when you are rushing out the door to get your kid to school."

As it turns out, it would be the day in which the Smith household was changed for good.

Tanner Smith with his golden retriever, Griffey.
"I was rushing Tanner off to school and signing his homework when I looked down and saw this paper he had written," she said. "It was titled: My Three Wishes. He wished for a Golden Retriever, to become a professional basketball player and to make kids with cancer laugh."

For a mom with a husband battling a disease that could have very easily taken his life, it was one of those heart warming moments, but Tanner was going to be late for school so off they went.

Fast forward two years down the road, and Tanner is now in sixth grade and gets another writing assignment. Surely the thoughts of a nine-year old had long been forgotten ... right?


Much to Craig's and Kathy's surprise there it was in print for them again.

My Three Wishes: 1) A Golden Retriever 2) To be a professional basketball player and 3) To make kids with cancer laugh.

"We thought we need to sit down with Tanner and talk about this," said Kathy.

At that point it was fairly obvious, young Tanner got his point across to his parents that talking about these wishes was not going to be enough some action was required.

Kathy first bought Tanner a red clown nose, you know like the one Patch Adams wore when visiting the kids' ward in the hospital where he studied.

The thought was that one day maybe Tanner could visit kids and make them laugh. She also had friends with Scottish Rite and Eggleston, the two children's hospitals in Atlanta, and so she also discussed her son's wishes them. She found out pre-teen and teenage patients were most often the one's overlooked.

There was the answer, what to do was the next question.

Craig, Tanner and Kathy all put their heads together and came up with the idea of Tanner's Totes. They could fill tote bags and deliver them to the children's hospitals. They would spend their own money and make up some for girls and some for boys.

The Smith family - Kathy, Tanner and Craig.
It all started in Nov. 2002 when they threw a Halloween party and had people bring items for the bags. Then 12-years old, Tanner delivered 34 tote bags. He never met the kids, he just left the bags with the hope it would make them laugh and bring a smile.

Now in the year 2008, Tanner and his parents have been responsible for over 1,000 tote bags filled with gifts. Totes have been delivered in Georgia, and neighboring states in South Carolina and Tennessee, but also as far away as Nebraska. In fact, Tanner's project has been so successful, he had to file for non-profit status.

There is also website where patients can request the totes and where people can donate to the cause. Also on that site, you will find a letter written by a then 15-year old Tanner.

Hi, my name is Tanner James Smith. I turned fifteen in March. I have a Golden Retriever named Griffey. I have filled this tote bag with many surprises to hopefully brighten your day. Since I was a kid in the fourth grade, I have wanted to cheer up patients just like you. My father had a bone marrow transplant when I was three years old. He struggles now with a disease called Graft vs. Host. He has been in and out of the hospital over the years, and I know how long and lonely the days can be.

Even though you are not allowed visitors like me, please know that I am thinking of you. In the tote I have enclosed a self addressed envelope for you to write me back, or with your camera to send me a picture. Also, my e-mail address is tanner@tannerstotes. You do not have to do this, but if you feel like it, go ahead. I hope that through the many more years you live, you will live your life to the fullest.

Your Friend,


Pretty heady stuff for a kid in high school, but then again this is a pretty heady kid.

"I know how lonely and long the days can be with my father going through what he has to each and every day. I just want to bring a smile to these kids, some just my age," Tanner told recently. "I originally wrote My Three Wishes in the fourth grade and then wrote about it again in the sixth grade. My parents were kind of skeptical and they asked me if this was something I wanted to do and I said it was."

This girls scout/ brownie troup from Peachtree City, GA is one of the many groups associated with Tanner's Totes.
Tanner realizes his spot on the Tiger basketball team will give him the opportunity to push his cause even more. He would like to get involved with the children's hospital in Greenville, he would like Tiger nation to donate to the cause, and he would like to make kids less fortunate than himself laugh and smile.

Tanner has also seen first hand what disease can do to a child and to a family.

His dad now has only about 30 to 40 percent of his lung capacity; he has had several cornea replacement surgeries and has to be very careful about even the slightest illness because his immune system is so depleted. Yet even with his own struggles, Craig handles all of the business details for Tanner's Totes and he and Kathy come to see their son play when they can.

Right now, Tanner Smith has received two of his three wishes he orginally wrote down in the fourth grade.

He has a Golden Retriever named Griffey and he has brought smiles to children faced with disease.

Whether the third wish comes true is one that all of us will have the privilege to see first hand.

The Smith family is one built on support for each other, faith in a God that will see them through the day, and doing for others what they can not always do for themselves.

During the Christmas season, or for that matter whatever season, it is a family we can all learn from.

To learn more about Tanner's Totes, please visit the web site, Top Stories