by Anne Roe
Dream Kid Eli’s mom
“Plans might change, so then you make a new plan.” A wise child life specialist shared that with our family while we were juggling cancer treatment for our 2 year old and trying to make life as normal as possible for our 4-year-old. At the time, we were not as concerned with small plans changing, like canceled playdates or longer than normal chemotherapy days. The plan we were solely focused on was the end of 3.5 years of Eli’s chemo. We knew life would never be normal, because, cancer. We did plan that Eli’s end of treatment would mean life not so focused on medical treatments. But sometimes you make a new plan.
Eli finished treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in November 2012. We continue to give thanks to God that, from a leukemia perspective, Eli is well! But Eli’s immune system never recovered from chemo, and he developed a permanent immune deficiency. His body doesn’t handle regular bacteria or viruses like it should, and he receives biweekly infusions to help support his immune function. Despite the juggle of random, persistent illnesses, migraines, fatigue, long-term effects of chemo, and the stress of all of it, Eli works hard and loves relentlessly. And Eli loves to golf.
While Dream On 3 was tirelessly working to plan Eli’s golf dream, COVID hit. So they made a new plan. Eli was surprised with a dream signing day box, complete with golf gear for days and a special message prerecorded on a new iPad by Webb Simpson essentially saying, we will make a new plan. Fast forward to September. As that plan began to unfold, we only told Eli a few specifics. Dream On 3 and Webb Simpson are planning a surprise. It will be COVID safe. (Eli is considered high risk for COVID because of his immune system, so we have been sheltering in place since March, only doing outdoor, distanced things). It will be on Thursday, October 29. Then a tropical storm blew through. Time to make a new plan.
Eli’s dream was canceled a second time, and honestly, at this point, he was beyond disappointed. Thankfully, Dream On 3 made a new plan, and fast! Eli’s Dream Day was rescheduled for November 3.
Every detail of the day was poured over by the Dream On 3 team, and every detail celebrated and encouraged Eli well. When the Dream On 3 team rang our doorbell, Eli was greeted by a socially distanced, masked-up crowd of family and friends. He quickly changed into his Dream Day PGA approved gear, graciously provided by Dream On 3 and Footjoy. A giant yard sign display lit up our front yard, announcing Eli’s Dream Day. Eli uncovered an enormous red wrapped gift box that hid a custom set of golf clubs gifted to him by Titleist. Dream On 3 announced that Eli needed transportation worthy of a professional golfer and Eli was completely shocked to see a Mercedes G-Wagon roll out of our garage! I didn’t think his smile could be bigger until he opened the back gate of the G-Wagon to see it filled with golf gear: hats, gloves and customized Clemson golf balls.
Then we heard it: the shrieking sound of 12 police motorcycles with lights and sirens roaring as they drove down our street to be Eli’s police escort. He clapped and grinned and was in complete awe. As Eli climbed into the front seat of the G-Wagon, the police gave us instructions about following in the motorcade. After waving goodbye to the crowd, we started following the police escort and we were all mesmerized. Stop signs? Red lights? Traffic on I-85? Not for this boy’s escort! The police officers weaved in and out of formation to give Eli a royal escort to his round of golf. There was something particularly special about this for our family. All of our other lights and sirens experiences have been in an ambulance due to medical emergencies. We were so thankful to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department and the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office to have this adventure replace those memories!
We arrived at the Charlotte Country Club and as we drove in the parking lot, Webb Simpson was right there waiting! Eli rolled down his window and we could see he was a bit nervous. Within seconds of Webb greeting Eli, Eli relaxed. Later Eli would describe Webb as a mix between one of his uncles and one of our dear friends.
Webb was incredibly gracious to our entire family. He gifted Eli more golf gear and a personalized iron that had “ELI” engraved in it! One of the best moments was seeing Webb’s excitement over Eli’s new custom clubs. He exclaimed, “Eli, even I don’t have this driver!” Over lunch, Webb shared stories about his family and faith and of course, all things golf. Eli is a quiet soul and a good listener. Webb seemed to pick up on Eli’s demeanor so quickly; he was engaging but also good with the quiet. This was especially evident as Webb and Eli got to work on the course.
The weather was perfect, the new clubs proved to be excellent tools and Eli did what he had dreamed of: he played 9 holes with Webb Simpson! We watched Eli study Webb’s shots, listen intently when Webb offered some instruction and smile with relief when his shots hit the fairway. We wrapped up the day with lots of distanced fist bumps and gratitude to Webb Simpson for taking time to speak into our Eli. We returned home that evening and enjoyed our final surprise: a fabulous steak dinner courtesy of Del Frisco’s delivered right to our door!
It is not lost on us how much work goes into to carrying out the mission of Dream On 3. We saw a team invest in getting to know Eli and ask amazing questions to really see how best to encourage him. We saw the effort behind planning and canceling and making new plans. We witnessed careful and thoughtful consideration to accommodate safety concerns. We also saw attentiveness to fun details like serving his favorite dessert: cupcakes with no icing! Dream On 3: our hearts are full of thanks for your team, the work you do and for every person who has huddled with you to make dreams come true for kids like Eli. Eli’s Dream Day took the weight of an 11-year medical battle right off of his shoulders. We could see it; we will never forget it and we couldn’t be more grateful.