Married three months ago and both big Disney fans, John and Mary Calabrese learned Tuesday they’ve won a free trip to Disney World and will leave next week to celebrate a delayed honeymoon.
It wasn’t some contest or sweepstakes that made the all-expenses-paid, weeklong trip a reality, but an incurable cancer John suffers from that, doctors say, will in all likelihood in a few months claim the life of the 55-year-old school teacher, collector of antique newspapers, golfer and Abe Lincoln buff.
Diagnosed in August 2014 with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer, the resident of Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community has been receiving chemotherapy at Pronger Smith Medical Care for more than a year. That’s where he was surprised with the news about the trip, made possible by Dream Foundation, a dream-granting organization for adults and their families facing terminal illness.
Calabrese for several years taught social studies at James Hart School in Homewood, and returned to work as a reading specialist at the school a little more than a week ago, saying that being around the students again has been “almost medicinal.” He was unable to work for more than a year after initially undergoing radiation treatment and chemotherapy to try to keep the cancer under control.
At 55, Tommy Nelson fulfilled his final dream — to see the Magic Kingdom. Nelson, who is under the care of Community Hospice at Lanier Terrace Skilled Nursing Facility, has colon cancer that has spread through his body.
Barbara Nicholls, activities director for the Northside facility, said she has a passion for making “last wishes” come true. When she asked Nelson what his would be, he told her he never could afford to go to Disney World and would love to go while still physically able. So Nicholls contacted The Dream Foundation, which made the trip possible.
Nelson was a pool repairman for many years. An accident on the job resulted in the amputation of his right forearm. Despite the accident, he persevered with a cheerful attitude and overcame many obstacles, Nicholls said.
“He is a treasure of ours and a joy to be around,” she said.
At Disney World, Nelson told her he had never had so much fun and would never forget it. He liked the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. He liked “It’s a Small World.” He liked the cartoon character shows, the Christmas acts and the fireworks. He liked to watch others having fun. And he liked the vanilla milk shakes, ice cream cones, double cheeseburgers and chili. He loved the relaxed atmosphere of the Grand Cypress Hotel, the food and ordering room service.
“It was truly magical to see him in that atmosphere,” Nicholls said, adding that he wanted to express his gratitude to the foundation, Lanier Terrace and the hotel and theme park employees who gave him the royal treatment. (Read more…)
A joyous, memorable Christmas surrounded by the people she loves. That’s what Gina Jones wanted when she contacted the Dream Foundation in November, 2015.
Weeks later, a knock on the door brought Gina and her grandchildren presents, decorations, and food galore, not to mention a merry band of elves.
While the Dream Foundation has made over 23,000 dreams come true, and never turned down a qualified request, their swift response was still a shock to Gina. “My initial call to Gina was emotional,” recalls Katarina Robledo, the dream coordinator who managed Gina’s case. “She was absolutely overjoyed with us wanting to grant a dream for her, she couldn’t believe that her application had been accepted.
“She said she finally felt like someone was on her side and she had God watching out for her and her family.”
Gina, 50, suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a condition which affects over 24 million people in the United States alone. It is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and women are disproportionately affected. Most cases are caused by smoking, but genetics, air pollution, and infections can also play a role in causing COPD.
Gina was diagnosed in 2014 and is currently at stage 4, the most severe grade for COPD. Most people with stage 4 COPD suffer with extreme shortness of breath and are often unable to even leave the house.
For what will likely be her last Christmas, Gina wanted to give her grandchildren — Christina and Matthew, both of whom she adopted — a truly memorable day, filled with presents and holiday cheer. She also needed some help paying off some expenses, including loans, household bills, and a Rent-A-Center bill.
Dream coordinator Maeve Harding was among the five person team who brought Gina’s dream to life. “This was an emergency dream, so we had to try to get everything turned around pretty quickly,” she says. Trekking an hour in a van stocked with donated presents, as well as decorations and food, they arrived at Gina’s home in Santa Maria, California dressed as some of Santa’s elves. (Read more…)
A Banning man whose doctors say has less than a year to live spent a recent weekend with the San Francisco 49ers – and, he asserted firmly, helped them beat the Atlanta Falcons.
“When we got onto the field during pregame practice, I got down and kissed the ground,” said Eddy Burch, 54. “I pulled up a handful of grass and put it under my hat, for luck.”
It worked, he figured – the 49ers won their game the next day.
The trip to the Bay Area and getting to meet and mingle with the 49ers came courtesy of the Dream Foundation, which arranges adventures for adults who have life- threatening illnesses.
Burch, an account manager for Valley Crest Landscaping, was diagnosed with colon cancer about eight years ago, he said. It spread to his liver and elsewhere in his body. Doctors have told him that it is inoperable and that he has less than a year to live.
“I’m not looking at that,” he said. “I know I can live longer than that.”
Burch traveled to the Bay Area with his wife, Esther, their 13-year-old grandson, Dominique, and longtime friend Tony Thomas of Riverside.
Burch got up close to the team: He was included in a post-practice huddle on the day before the game.
“I got to meet them real good,” he said.
He had meaningful conversations – “not just about football,” Burch said – with players and staff members, including wide receiver DeAndrew White and running-back coach Tom Rathman.
Head coach Jim Tomsula talked to Esther Burch about an experience they have in common: being a caregiver for a cancer patient. Tomsula’s mother has battled breast cancer for many years.
“I was touched that he would do that,” Esther Burch said.
Tomsula also made sure Eddy Burch got the game ball.
Burch said he feels lucky to have had so much interaction with the athletes and coaches of what has been his favorite team since he was about 13.
“Win or lose,” he said.
“Eddy is the 23rd dream recipient the San Francisco 49ers have graciously hosted in partnership with Dream Foundation, said the group’s executive director, Kisa Heyer. “When we call, the 49ers don’t hesitate to make dreams happen.”
For the people the group serves, and especially their caregivers, she said, the trips are a much-needed break from the hardships of illness. The foundation puts them up at luxury hotels – the Burch party stayed at Plaza Suites in Santa Clara – and provided all meals, transportation and special gifts.
“We all had a blast,” Burch said.