This is how it began, the formation of a group of anonymous volunteers—known as the Dream Team—who work to fulfill the wishes of adult patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Pamela Murdock can remember the time, the people, the ideas.
It was the mid-1980s, and she had recently joined a group of volunteers who visited ill hospital patients. Murdock knew the patients appreciated the visits, but she wanted to do more.
“I always wished they could have something that brought them a moment of joy,” she said, “that there was an organization like the Make-A-Wish Foundation for people over eighteen.”
Murdock, credited as the founder of The Dream Team, said she worked hand in hand with the social workers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center who would speak with patients and relay any wishes to the Dream Team. “Each month,” Murdock said, “the team was presented with a few dreams which we did our best to achieve.”
One of those moments really stuck with Murdock. A terminally ill cancer patient hoped to see his mother before he died. Unfortunately, her exact location was unknown—a shack on a bayou somewhere in Louisiana was the only information they were provided. No mailing address. No email. No phone. “Somehow we tracked this woman down,” Murdock recalled. Picked up by an airboat, she was flown to New York to see her son. “She got to the hospital just in time and later wrote us the most touching note saying, though she’d never know our names, she’d be able to spot us in heaven.”
“Some of the dreams we get are very modest—new clothes, tickets to a show,” said Chappy Morris, an original member who is still with the Dream Team. “The meetings are great because it becomes six degrees of separation brought down to two.” It’s thanks to the generosity of the members and their friends—as well as the Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Administrative Board and in-kind support through corporate partnerships—that these wishes are able to become true.
The Dream Team used to meet at Mortimer’s and then the boardroom at Sotheby’s. It was there they’d read those thank-you letters aloud from patients. “Guaranteed tearjerkers,” remarked Murdock.
There were laughs, too. Blaine Trump, who was an original Dream Team member, recalled one of her earlier experiences with the organization. She said, “One patient wanted a warm, cozy blanket, and that seemed easy to accomplish.” But one of the members, who wished to remain anonymous, went out and looked for the best blanket, the Rolls Royce of blankets. It was beautiful and expensive and it was from Hermès, made of 100 percent wool. “But so scratchy,” Trump exclaimed. “So it was off to Bloomies for a simple, soft blanket.”
Talking to members of the Dream Team, the impression that you get is that it’s often the smaller requests—tickets to a game or a concert, a family trip—that have the largest impact. Mary Davidson, who became the chair of the Dream Team in 2009, remembered one patient asking for a puppy to give to her children as she was passing away. Another man just wanted to get his GED.
And then there was the patient who was a husband and a father. During his cancer treatment he was unwell. Even walking was a challenge. Each year, he took pride in decorating his home with Christmas lights, his favorite tradition. To raise his spirits, the Dream Team partnered with a lighting company and made sure his house was the brightest in the neighborhood. “These dreams leave such a special imprint on patients, their families, and Dream Team members,” said Davidson.
These days, the Dream Team still gets together, although no longer at Mortimer’s and Sotheby’s. They still read thank-you notes out loud. And with the help of biennial dinners, they continue to raise funds for their cause. (According to a recent press release, over 1,900 dreams have been fulfilled since 1988.) It is thanks to the success of those events that the Dream Team can push forward, allowing patients, at least for a moment, to forget they even have cancer.
“No matter how difficult it is to organize the dream,” Morris made clear, “we know it was worth it.”