College of Charleston Communication Professor Mike Lee and his family spent October 2013 getting a behind-the-scenes tour of the Georgia Aquarium and enjoying New York City. The family of five walked the great halls of the American Museum of Natural History, admired the toys at FAO Shwartz, explored Central Park boulders, gazed at skyscrapers and got behind-the-scenes access to a Sesame Street filming.
But these are no regular family vacations. In July, 2013, Mike’s two-and-a-half-year-old son Sam Lee was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a highly aggressive type of brain cancer that only affects children. Mike and his wife Erin Benson were told that Sam had roughly a year to live.
“After we wrapped our heads around how our lives had changed we just started thinking, ‘we have to make this next year as fun and memorable as possible because it’s all he’s got,’” Mike said. “Of course a two-year-old can’t make a bucket list, but we can take his interests and compile a list that lets him see the biggest and best of everything he loves.”
Sam’s interests – which include dinosaurs, sea creatures (especially sharks), and safari animals – may be the only ordinary things about him. Sam was born with a bone growth disorder called Ollier disease, which causes tumors called enchondromas to grow within large bones. The chances of him experiencing both Ollier disease and DIPG are close to those of winning the lottery.
Fortunately for Sam, Mike and Erin are no ordinary parents. The two began creating a list immediately, a process made more difficult by the arrival of their newborn twin daughters and Sam’s exorbitant medical bills. But by early August 2013, friends had taken steps to help and the family began planning the Atlanta trip.
“We’ve had a lot of valuable help as we try to meet this goal for Sam. Between Rally.org, the people in this community and my students who have organized fundraising events that just go above and beyond, it makes me really happy to work here,” Mike said.
Mike’s college roommate Eric Taubel created Sam’s Rally.org page, titled “Let’s Rally for Sam Lee to Give Sam the Best Year Ever,” while Mike and Erin were still in the hospital. The page allows people to donate for Sam’s trips and his medical costs.
The Rally.org page also keeps people updated on Sam, helps spread awareness for his condition and it affords him opportunities the Lee family couldn’t otherwise provide; both the Georgia Aquarium and Sesame Street behind-the-scenes tours were arranged through Rally.org connections.
Sam has an intimidating bucket list, but the Lee’s friends and family, the College community and those connected through social media are determined to help Mike and Erin check each item off. “The outpouring of support for Sam from everyone has been staggering. We’re going to do our best to complete his list, and we’ll get so much further with the help this community has given us.”
The next fundraiser for Sam is October 26, 2013 at the Smoky Oak Tap Room on James Island at 12 p.m. Stay updated on Sam’s condition, travels and fundraisers at his Rally.org site.
For more information, email Samantha Shirley at email@example.com.