Inspired by the 2020 Subaru Share the Love Event, we're sharing the story of Janvi Shahi, an art student and former Make-A-Wish® wish kid, who is now helping fund the wishes of others by selling her original artwork. Today, Shahi has raised over $200,000 for Make-A-Wish and has been in remission for 16 years. This story was told to Jennifer Mulrow and edited for length and clarity.
When I was two and a half, I was diagnosed with leukemia. I used to complain to my mom that my legs hurt, but when we went to the doctor, we learned that nothing was broken or fractured — it was cancer. I began chemotherapy at the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas about twice a week, depending on how I was feeling. Eventually, it was reduced to once a week, and then once every three weeks.
At that age I didn’t really understand what was going on; I only remember bits and pieces of my time in the hospital and feeling scared and confused. Despite my diagnosis, my parents still tried to help me live as normal of a life as possible. I took ballet and piano classes and would hang out with my friends and family on the days I wasn’t in treatment. My parents wanted me to know that everything was going to be okay.
When I was four years old, the doctors told my parents about Make-A-Wish, the nonprofit organization that grants life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. Two years after my initial diagnosis, Make-A-Wish granted my wish of going to the Walt Disney World® Resort. Disney was a big part of treatment for me: I had an Ariel-themed birthday party and watched The Aristocats during radiation treatment. I was obsessed with The Lion King, and referred to myself as Simba, my cancer as Uncle Scar, and my body as the Pride Lands. The nurses and doctors called me Simba, too.
Being able to go to Disney World and meet all of the characters who inspired me so much during my treatment was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I had unlimited access to the park and was able to go wherever I wanted. I had breakfast with different characters every morning and took photos with the prince in Cinderella’s castle. When we went to The Lion King show in the Magic Kingdom, they called me up to join Simba onstage. I was so immersed in the the magic Make-A-Wish was able to make happen, that for a brief moment, I was able to forget about the reality of my situation.
When we returned to Dallas, on my final day of treatment, I was diagnosed with cancer a second time. We were in the middle of celebrating when we received the call that I had relapsed. I think it was much harder for my parents to hear the news this second time than it was the first. I remember asking my mom if I was going to get a second wish. She told me that Make-A-Wish has a one-wish policy, but she said that now we would be the ones granting wishes, instead.
For my second round of treatment, I went to Duke in North Carolina and stayed at the hospital for 100 days. Once I was released and we returned to Dallas, I was under a mandatory year-long order to stay indoors to avoid further infection. To pass the time, my mom bought me paint-by-numbers and had me try art therapy to express how I was feeling. If I was having a good day, I would use bright shades; if I had a rough day, I would use dark and dull colors. That was my first introduction to art, and I fell in love with it. After that year, I went into remission, but my love for painting continued and I began taking private lessons. It was mostly landscape and nature paintings at first (I was known for my flowers), but as I continued to paint and hone my craft through the years, my specialty became realistic portraiture.
Each year, Make-A-Wish hosts “Wish Night,” an annual fundraising event in which they auction off wish kids' artwork. My first year, when I was four years old, I sold a painting for $40. While I had initially started painting as a hobby, I realized that I could use my art as a way to give back. Over the years, I continued selling my work and donating all of my earnings to Make-A-Wish to go toward making other wish kids’ dreams come true. Whenever I raised $7,000 (which was the amount it cost to grant one wish), I would receive a letter in the mail letting me know whose wish I helped grant. It motivated me to keep going, seeing the proof in front of me that my work was helping someone. I knew that every penny was helping other kids who still needed a wish.
At auctions, I would confidently stride right up to people and straight-up ask if they wanted to buy my painting. Once, when I was 10, a man asked me how much a piece cost. I came up with a number right there on the spot — $10,000 — and he bought it. Soon I was selling my work in silent auctions in front of an audience, and my pieces started going for $14,000. My parents had a running joke that they could no longer afford a “Janvi.”
The year before I was heading off to college, Make-A-Wish awarded me the Indomitable Spirit Award, which was created to honor someone making a lasting impression on the community who also embodied the foundation’s desire to give back. I was invited to the company’s headquarters to receive the award, which is when I met the mother of Christopher Greicius, the very first wish kid who inspired the organization and its mission. In the spur of the moment, we invited her to come to Dallas to attend my last “Wish Night” auction before college, and I promised to paint a portrait of her late son for the live auction. She end up coming, and it turned out to be an emotional and powerful night. Someone bid $45,000 for the painting of Chris, and as soon as we thought the sale was over, someone else doubled the bid on the condition that the painting went to Chris’ mother. We ended up raising $90,000 with that painting alone. Upon receiving the painting, Chris’ mother said, “Now, I get one more chance in my life to tuck Chris in bed.”
While I had originally pledged to raise $100,000 for Make-A-Wish, I ended up exceeding the $200,000 mark. Helping other wish kids has helped me see that there’s so much more to life than receiving.
Now, I’m a senior at Savannah College of Art and Design majoring in graphic design and minoring in motion graphics. All my life, I had only done painting and drawing. When I got to school, I realized there was so much more for me to explore — graphic design, animation, motion graphics, and so on. My dream is to one day work for Disney, whether that be through branding, graphics, or illustrations. But no matter what I end up doing, as long as I can share my passion for color in a way that helps people, that’s all that really matters.
This holiday season, give back to your community through the 13th annual Subaru Share the Love Event. For every new Subaru vehicle purchased or leased between November 19, 2020 through January 4, 2021, Subaru of America, Inc. will donate $250 to the customer's choice of charities: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Make-A-Wish, Meals on Wheels America, The National Park Foundation, and over 790 hometown charities. Having donated more than $176 million to national and hometown charities over the last twelve years, Subaru of America, Inc. and its participating retailers hope to exceed a total of $200 million in donations since the Subaru Share the Love Event launched in 2008.