When Vanessa Bayer was just freshman in high school, she was diagnosed with leukemia. While the news was a shock for her and her family, Bayer says her cancer battle ultimately led her to a career in comedy.
“I wasn’t really that scared,” Bayer says in the latest issue of PEOPLE. “My dad is a really funny guy, and we would make jokes about my leukemia. When my friends would come over we would joke about it too. It’s sort of messed up out of context, but it put everybody at ease. Being sick is the reason I went into comedy.”
After her diagnosis Bayer began an intense treatment program that included chemotherapy and radiation, which forced her to miss the end of ninth grade. In 1999 Make-A-Wish contacted her family and granted Bayer’s wish to take her family on a trip to Hawaii.
“It was amazing,” she says. “They took care of everything.” While staying in the presidential suite, “I remember my brother and I put all the robes on because it was just so fancy and fun.”
- For more on Vanessa Bayer’s story, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
When she graduated high school, Bayer joined a sketch comedy group and performed improv and standup for six years in Chicago before landing her dream job at Saturday Night Live in 2010.
After she was hired, Bayer got the chance to work with the Make-A-Wish foundation again, this time granting children who are battling life threatening illness their own wishes to visit the set in New York City.
“It’s very emotional and full-circle for me,” says Bayer. “I’ve gotten to meet so many kids and their parents. When I tell them that I’m a ‘Wish kid’ too, it’s just so cool to see.”