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Brain tumor warrior, Thomas Jay, headed to Disney via Hope Rises ‘Kindness Campaign’

Hope Rises caught up with Amy Velez, the mother of Thomas Jay, who we helped with a Walt Disney World trip at the end of 2018. Thanks to the incredibly generous community, along with Thomas’ overall strength and bravery, more than $13,000 was raised through the Hope Rises platform. Thomas and his family now can visit the most MAGICAL PLACE ON EARTH!

It comes at beautiful timing, after Thomas’ chemo and radiation for a brain tumor, which caused pressure on his optical nerves, resulting in vision loss. He is just a senior in high school. Thanks to Amy for writing in to us to share what they are most looking forward to in the coming weeks! 

Can you believe it!?!? We are about a month from departure!

Thomas’ wish – to see his littlest sisters face at Walt Disney World – is just about a month away. 

It still blows me away that this is *actually happening*. The generosity from the Buffalo community and beyond has truly caught my breath. We will be forever grateful for the prayers that lifted us up so high and the kindness shown to us during the scariest moments of our lives. Thomas was granted his wish and our whole family gets to share in his joy.


Our planning has come in waves, small at first, but as the day is starting to draw near, the excitement has started to build, and daily bits of conversation have started to fervently build into tidal waves of organization. The preparation of this vacation has made daily life a little bit more magical with anticipation of this impending adventure. 

Planning began at the end of December, just after Thomas finished chemo, but before he began radiation. Matthew and I decided it was time to get the trip on the books. This would give Thomas something to look forward to, especially with the radiation upcoming. So, I enlisted an expert to help us and contacted Shelley at AAA. Shelley had been graciously referred to me by Kate Glaser, from Hope Rises, and by Stephanie Kowalski, from Make-A-Wish, for her expertise in all things Disney. I called Shelley and explained our situation. Her kind, bubbly disposition on the phone started to stir excitement in my weary heart. She went to work booking our flights, hotel, guiding us through adding on our “magic maker” photo package,  and explaining our dining options within our dining plan. She lifted all burdens of travel planning and made suggestions to help add to our experience. Plain and simple: she made it easy. And to be completely honest, that in and of itself was a true gift because my mind couldn’t wrap itself around anything else more complicated than Thomas’ medical care. Shelley was prompt in her responses to all our questions, she was thorough in her planning, and in every interaction she always made me feel at ease. 

When Thomas’s campaign for Hope Rises began, Give Kids The World, heard about his story and generously provided the park tickets for both Disney and Universal for our whole family! Jean Lowe, the Compassion Partners Manager, was so helpful and kind. We truly have been blessed at every step along the way. 

With the dates on the calendar, I went to work getting our family of six ready for a week away. I took inventory of everyone’s clothes, sneaker and sandal size, and made sure everyone had a bathing suit. I started shopping for sales at for princess shirts and snagged sunglasses for the whole family. As the packages started to arrive, I’d scurry down to the basement to hide them in our suitcases, tucking them away to serve as more surprises for the kids while we were in Florida.

As a mom traveling with children of varying ages (18, 12, 7, and 3), as well as traveling with a son who has specific medical needs, my mind has started to rapid fire off lists of ideas of things we could all do in Disney and keep everyone happy. Lists for how we will navigate the plane, the parks, and schedule rest times to regroup.

I called a family meeting and asked everyone what was on their mind as “must sees”. Our family has compiled a short list of things we can’t miss which will help us prioritize. Meeting Mickey, Cinderella’s castle, Star Wars, watching fireworks, seeing a parade, and getting Mickey ears were all at the top of the list.


My daughter Samantha, age 12, made paper chains for all things that are exciting coming up. The countdown to her baby siblings births, days until Christmas, and even the last month of school before summer vacation are all examples of things that Sammie has painstakingly fashioned loops of paper chains. For this trip, being no exception, a paper chain has already been constructed and each link has a fun fact about Disney. 

The whole family has agreed the time in Florida needs to be as pressure free as possible. We have spoken about how we will navigate Thomas’ medical situation. We will do it as a team, just like we have done from day one. To be honest, my heart is at ease knowing my husband will be right there at my side. He and I make one killer team and I have no doubt we will be able to out think our brood and make the trip as smooth as possible. Not to mention the fact, my husband can make laughter erupt from the most crazy places- a skill that I envy and one that helps lift the mood of all around him, including cranky kids. The sound of his laugh alone puts everyone in a good mood.

All six of us are bubbling over with excitement as the days inch closer to our trip!!

This vacation is going to be a time to enjoy our time together, free from cancer, making millions of happy memories as a family. As a mom, my heart sometimes feels like it’s going to bust open with how much gratitude I feel when I listen to their excited chatter over the dinner table or as we drive around doing errands in the van. I love hearing Thomas say, “Ava, what princess do you want to see?” I love listening to my middles decide which bunk they’ll sleep in and which lovies they’ll bring with them on the plane. I take joy in watching my hubby organize his summer clothes and set aside his favorite warm weather outfits. It’s so awesome to start to book character lunches at special restaurants and plan which parks we are going to see on each day. It’s exciting to see Ava start to gain the realization that Cinderella’s castle does in fact exist and that she will soon be seeing it.


And most of all, I adore seeing Thomas lean on the knowledge that the trip is coming when the days in recovery have been long. 

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