Founded in Santa Barbara, the Dream Foundation is sending Stage 4 cancer patient on a dream trip to Hawaii with her young family
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
When Belmi Tepeque learned her gastric cancer had progressed to Stage 4 after her initial diagnosis in 2017, the 22-year-old wife and mother of two only had one thing on her mind.
“That’s all I heard, ‘Stage 4,’ out of everything. I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, OK. Number one thing for me is my family,’” Ms. Tepeque said.
Ms. Tepeque wanted her 4-year-old daughter Genesis to have memories of them together that would last forever, but their family could not afford a special vacation. She looked into the Make a Wish Foundation, but she was too old to qualify.
Discouraged, she spoke to Amy Shapton at the Ridley Tree Cancer Center, one of her first support systems following her diagnosis.
“I told (Amy), ‘Oh, Make a Wish; I don’t qualify!’ and she said, ‘But there’s a Dream Foundation!’” said Ms. Tepeque.
Founded in Santa Barbara 26 years ago, the Dream Foundation is the only national dream-granting organization for terminally-ill adults. With a network of generous donors with big hearts, the Foundation fulfills final “dreams” that provide inspiration, comfort and closure at the end of life for terminally-ill adults 18 and older across the country.
Since 1994, the Foundation has fulfilled more than 32,000 dreams.
With the help of Ms. Shapton and staff at Santa Barbara Hospice, Ms. Tepeque submitted her application, and was accepted.
On Wednesday, the Dream Foundation presented her with her dream: A family vacation to Maui.
“I was overwhelmed with happiness and excitement,” said Ms. Tepeque, who was born and raised in Santa Barbara.
She said the only time she has left Santa Barbara was for family trips to Mexico and a junior high trip to New York City and Washington, D.C.
“I just want to leave for a little, and so I’m very, very excited. Breathing another environment and just forgetting about what I have here currently going on. I’m just overwhelmed,” said Ms. Tepeque.
This morning, Ms. Tepeque, her husband of four years Gustavo, Genesis, and their 8-month-old son, Isaiah, will hop on a Alaskan Airlines flight, one of the Foundation’s “sustaining partners,” and head to Hawaii for a week-long tropical getaway.
The family will be staying in a luxury suite just a block and a half from the beach donated by Coconut Condos, another Foundation partner who has also planned a week of activities.
While in Maui, the family will attend a luau, go whale watching during peak season and snorkel with sea turtles. The Foundation also gave the family a check for meals, souvenirs and other expenses.
It’s the perfect trip for Genesis, said Ms. Tepeque.
“She gets everything. She wants to be on a plane, she wants to be on the beach, she wants to swim in the pool. I just saw the pool and it’s right in front of the suite. And she wants to go on a boat, so it’s like we have it all.”
When she applied for a dream, Ms. Tepeque picked Maui because of Genesis’ love of beaches. Every day she asks her mom if they can go to the beach, and if she had her way, Genesis would live in her swimsuit.
“She just loves the water. I can’t find a warm place at this time right now in Santa Barbara or anywhere, and so I’m like: Hawaii! I hear it’s always warm and the waters are warm, and she loves turtles and she loves the sea animals,” said Ms. Tepeque.
Megan Higgins was Ms. Tepeque’s dream coordinator, working with the Foundation’s partners to put the trip together. The Foundation often fulfills Hawaii dreams like Ms. Tepeque’s, she said, but the dreams can really be anything from family reunions to one last reuben sandwich from the legendary Carnegie Deli.
“It all depends on, when you’re at that phase, what means the most. What their hearts desire is,” said Ms. Higgins. “There are dreams that are really expansive and some that seem so simple that mean so much.”
Many of the dream recipients are all across the country, so the Foundation’s staff don’t often get to meet them, although they love receiving letters and pictures from recipients and keeping in touch with families for years.
“When we have a local Dreamer we love to embrace that they’re in our own community, which means a lot to us since this is where Dream Foundation was founded,” said Ms. Higgins.
Even though they aren’t even fully packed yet, Ms. Tepeque said people like Ms. Higgins at the Dream Foundation have made a huge impact on her family’s lives.
“Just the attention that I receive from her is amazing. I feel loved. Even though it’s just a tiny interaction, an email or phone call, there’s a person that cares for me. There’s a person that cares for my family, that wants to reach the goal for us to reach our dream, and that means so much to us,” said Ms. Tepeque.
“We’re so grateful, and I really hope that I can have faith in God that I will live for many years and stay in contact with the Dream Foundation and be a part of other people’s dreams.”
To learn more about the Dream Foundation, visit www.dreamfoundation.org.