There’s a spot in Magic Kingdom, just past Main Street, USA, where you stop and look up at Cinderella’s Castle for the first time. Even in an age of skyscrapers and death-defying rollercoasters, not much can compete with the first sight of the storybook fortress.
When Dawn Lau was there with her family a decade ago, it wasn’t the magic of Disney World or the thrill of a few vacation days that moved her. It was the answer to her prayer a few months earlier when her son, Tommy, got the all-clear from his team of oncologists.
Four Months in Memphis
Just before Tommy turned four, Dawn took him to the pediatrician for a sore throat. She thought it might be strep but wanted to be sure. Doctors saw an abscess on his right tonsil and sent off for more blood work. At first they thought he had mononucleosis, but when the TYLENOL® the doctor prescribed didn’t help, she pushed for answers. Over the next few days, Tommy’s breathing grew more and more labored, so Dawn made an appointment with an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.
The ENT specialist noticed the same thing—his tonsils were inflamed and needed to come out immediately. On his fourth birthday, Tommy got his tonsils removed. His mother asked the doctor if he thought it might be cancer, and the doctor assured her it wasn’t.
But even though the routine biopsy on the abscess came back normal, some little voice in the doctor’s head told him to run it again. That’s when he learned the cause of Tommy’s inflammation: Burkitt’s lymphoma, a rare-but-aggressive form of cancer. That type of cancer normally starts in the spleen, making it hard to catch until it’s advanced to other parts of the body. Since it started in Tommy’s tonsil, they were able to catch it before it went any further than the one tonsil and a lymph node behind his ear.
By the time the doctor called Dawn back to his office the next day and gave her the diagnosis, he had already made arrangements for Tommy to head to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. The family packed for a seven-day trip having no idea Tommy would end up spending four months in the hospital.
Those days were a whirlwind for Dawn and her husband, Tommy, Sr. The overwhelming news coupled with an immediate trip out of town made it difficult to function, but like any good parents, they pushed through.
“I am great at navigation and finding my way anywhere, and I tell you, I could not find my way (to St. Jude) that day for anything,” Dawn said. “We were both in a daze.”
It was rough. Tommy had to go through five rounds of chemotherapy—aptly nicknamed the Red Devil chemo—with each one lasting 24 hours a day for seven days straight. Twice they had to inject chemotherapy into his spine to fight the cancer cells then immediately do a bone-marrow aspiration out of his hip bone.
After four months of treatment, Tommy got the all-clear from his team of doctors. He went back each month for the next year, but the cancer never came back.
When you get to St. Jude, you’re met with a social worker—someone who understands you’re in shock and is there to walk you through the paperwork and procedures. It is that social worker who contacts organizations willing to help with a Make-A-Wish event.
In the past, Make-A-Wish only served children who were terminally ill, but by the time Tommy was diagnosed, they had opened the program up to any child who was suffering from a life-threatening illness.
Shortly after Tommy got home from St. Jude, his mom got a phone call—his wish was being granted.
Trideum Foundation had stepped up to the challenge. The newly formed nonprofit sponsored the Lau family, and they went to Orlando for a week.
You have to understand, Trideum Foundation doesn’t do things halfway. When the group of engineers, developers and other tech-minded employees put their mind to something, they get it done. In fact, the party they threw Tommy to tell him he was going to Disney World was so grandiose, he thought the party was his wish being granted. But they surprised Tommy and his sister, Emily, with backpacks full of activities for the airplane, cupcakes, Disney-character cutouts to have their photos taken with—and all of that was just their way of telling him he was going to someplace even more fun.
The party could have been a bittersweet experience—sending a terminally ill child on his last trip is heartbreaking at best—but everything changed when, right before the party, the Trideum employees found out Tommy was cancer-free.
“They always say you try to find the silver lining in things,” Dawn said. “Total strangers taking up the cause for him—he was their first one—and just opening their hearts to our whole family … it just makes your heart swell up. We couldn’t help but tear up and cry. It was just overwhelming.”
Trideum Foundation sent the Lau Family to Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World. In addition to the all-expenses-paid trip, they also gave the family some spending money to use in the parks.
“If you could have seen his little face,” Dawn said. “He was still bald-headed; his hair had not come back all the way yet … It (was) magical. That is the perfect word for it.”
A Decade of Living
Tommy has officially been cancer-free for 11 years now. His childhood love for cars hasn’t changed, although he now prefers Lamborghinis over Lightning McQueen. There are some reminders of his battle with cancer—short-term memory loss and some coordination issues—but not many. He’s even going back to St. Jude soon to participate in a research study to help other children with the disease.
In that decade, while Tommy was enjoying a cancer-free childhood, Trideum Foundation was moving on to help other people. They’ve been involved with everything from helping to grant Christmas Prayers with WAY-FM for families in need in Huntsville, to working with a nonprofit in Virginia that feeds families in need at Thanksgiving. They even worked with a group in Missouri that builds tiny homes for homeless veterans.
In all, Trideum Foundation has provided more than 80 grants, totaling nearly $250,000 in donations since that very first Make-A-Wish grant for Tommy a little over 10 years ago—and they are only getting started. Each year the Foundation gives more and more to help people in need.
For both Tommy and Trideum, there are no signs of slowing down any time soon.
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