As a little girl, she dreamt of Hawaii as she paged through her parents’ photo albums and heard the story of how they first met. As a woman, she day dreamt of sandy beaches and a tropical paradise as her plane flew over Oahu en route to Taiwan. But, at age 60, Rebecca Golden was diagnosed with lung cancer and given a prognosis of less than 12 months to live. Her dream appeared as if it would only be that: a dream.
With the help of one of Phoenix VA’s many unsung heroes, Golden, a seven-year U.S. Air Force Veteran, would realize her Dream.
Lisa Terry, an oncology social worker, approached Golden about Dream Foundation’s “Dreams for Veterans” program.
“They are a dream-granting foundation for adults with terminal illness, and have a special program for Veterans to grant them an end-of-life Dreams,” Terry said. “It’s a wonderful program that provides a lot of hope and inspiration for Veterans at the most difficult time in their life.”
Golden became the third Veteran Terry helped to realize a lifelong Dream. Terry volunteered for a national training certification so she could help Veterans with the foundation’s application process, but she said any VA social worker can refer a Veteran to the program. The only qualifications for the Veteran are that they have a prognosis of 12 months or less to live and they lack the resources to fulfill the Dream on their own.
Some Veterans who qualify for the program have reservations about receiving an end-of-life Dream because they feel they’re taking from fellow Veterans. “It’s important for Veterans to know they wouldn’t be taking a seat from another Veteran,” Terry said. “The program is for everyone, and there is plenty to go around. It’s fabulous to be able to refer the program.”
As the date for Golden’s trip approached, there was concern she wouldn’t be physically strong enough to make the trip, but she was determined. Terry and other Phoenix VA employees ensured Golden had her oxygen tank and medications, and gave her a respite from chemotherapy so the vacation would go smoothly. Finally, on Dec. 8, Golden and her youngest son departed for Maui.
“It was magical,” Golden said. “I did not want to come back. The trip was beautiful.”
Golden used her weeklong trip to explore Maui and bond with her son. The doctors’ worries about her being able to endure the travel was of no concern as she participated in a sunset cruise, luau, shopping, visited an aquarium and even decided to go on an ATV ride through the tropical mountains.
“We were busy every day we were there,” Golden said. “The last day we were there we slowed down a bit and went shopping and visited an art museum. I wanted to have time with my youngest son because we never had a trip together. We had a wonderful time getting closer.”
Golden’s son got a tattoo while in Maui to commemorate the trip with his mother. Additionally, he started a new career when they returned home in the hope of raising enough money to take his mother back to Hawaii again. Her once-bland room at the Sun West Choice Health Care and Rehabilitation in Sun City, Arizona, is now adorned with pictures of the trip and Hawaiian souvenirs.
Golden said the trip was a life-changing experience. “My room is done up Hawaiian style,” she said, “and I’ve been wearing all my new clothes. My room feels like a home now.
To other Veterans, Golden emphasizes that the foundation really makes Dreams come true, and if they qualify, they should apply to the foundation. “My son and I are closer than ever before, and I’m grateful to everyone who participated and helped my Dream come true,” she said.
For Veterans or social workers interested in finding out more about the program, visit http://www.dreamfoundation.org/dreams-for-veterans-application-preview