When a doctor tells you that your three-and-a-half-year-old son has
leukemia, your world stops. As Tristan Dawson listened to a doctor diagnose her son Drew with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2012, the medical terms and treatments that he described were lost on her. Shock blocked any ability to fully comprehend what was happening to her little boy.
In the days to come, fear and confusion turned to hope and courage as Tristan and her husband Mark found two sources of strength — the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and the Wellington community, where the Dawson family has lived since 2005.
A call to LLS shortly after Drew’s diagnosis gave the Dawsons information about Drew’s blood cancer that was an important first step in understanding what the future held. “It was so helpful for me as a mother to know what to expect,” Tristan recalled.
What she didn’t expect was the way LLS would become a central part of their lives. Following three years of courageous treatment — periods where Tristan couldn’t pick up her son without him crying in pain — LLS selected Drew as their “Boy of the Year” in 2015. He was celebrated as an inspiration in the fight against blood cancers, attending events held in his honor.
“That was when I really understood how powerful LLS is,” Tristan said. “We met so many people from so many different walks of life who are involved with LLS and support the research that will help more children like Drew.”
Many Wellington residents who support LLS are in the under-12 set. Drew’s school, Elbridge Gale Elementary School, was the No. 1 fundraising school in the State of Florida last year for LLS’s Pennies for Patients program, presented by Olive Garden. The school, inspired by Drew’s story, raised an astounding $21,000 in donations collected for the cause.
It’s just one example of the outpouring of support from the Wellington community that the Dawson family has experienced, and why Tristan said, “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Thanks to LLS, there was something more to come for Drew that Tristan could never have imagined — her son hitting a home run off of Houston Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr.
Drew was invited to take part in LLS’s “Day in the Life of the Astros.” McCullers gave Drew the experience of a lifetime, teaching him how to pitch, hit and even play ping-pong as he made every minute of the day special for a young boy who had been through so much.
“To see Drew sliding into home base puts our work into perspective,” said Pam Payne, executive director of LLS’s Palm Beach Area Chapter. “Only 60 years ago, survival rates for Drew’s leukemia were 3 percent. Today it’s 92 percent because of our research.”
Tristan Dawson is thankful for those research efforts.
“Without LLS, the protocols for my son would not be in place,” she said. “The survival rates would not be what they are today. Drew would not be where he is today.”
So what’s next for Drew? His sights are set right where an eight-year-old boy’s should be: playing Little League baseball here in Wellington.
To learn more about the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, visit www.lls.org/palm-beach-area.