Dream brings 'light' to ill woman

Roseville resident battling cancer hoped to see fireflies
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Tamara Wilson had a simple wish: “To see the fireflies.”

The 67-year-old Roseville resident has spent the last year — following her terminal diagnosis of renal cell cancer — embracing life with a trip to Yosemite, fun holiday celebrations and daily phone conversations with family members.

Wilson took inspiration from Tim McGraw’s song, “Live Like You Were Dying.”

Doctors have now given her a few months to live, as she battles this type of kidney cancer. But for all her exploits, her ultimate dream remained out of reach until recently.

On March 16, the Dream Foundation fulfilled her wish, albeit in a creative way.

Her daughter Cassie Campanel wrote to the foundation a few weeks ago, expressing her mother’s wish to see fireflies. The Santa Barbara-based wish-granting organization serves adults with life-threatening illnesses as a way to provide peace and closure.

“In our search last year, we had just missed the optimum time to fly east in order to view these magical creatures,” Cassie’s letter said. “We thought we’d have more time this year. Is there any way to bring them to her?”

Fireflies emit a chemically produced light of bright yellows and greens. These insects are typically found in temperate and tropical environments, and aren’t a common occurrence in California. Some species exist here, but they’re not the bioluminescent variety.

So the foundation’s “dream host” volunteers planted shrubs outside Wilson’s bedroom window and installed solar powered simulated fireflies — so realistic, researchers use them to attract the winged beetles — in the branches. These “fireflies” light up automatically each evening once the sun sets.

“All of a sudden, I have all of this,” Wilson said during the delivery. “Thank you very much.”

This event marked one of roughly 2,000 dreams the foundation fulfills nationwide each year, said Communications Director Erinn Lynch.

One time, a leukemia patient had the chance to meet Lady Gaga and attend her concert. Another patient met his hero — breast cancer survivor and “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts. One patient wanted to go to Squaw Valley to see the snow, so they put her up in a hotel there for a few days.

The foundation’s reach is largely thanks to its Dream Host Volunteer program, in which representatives from companies and organizations help identify local resources and deliver dreams, Lynch said.

Biotechnology company Genentech acted as the corporate sponsor for Wilson’s wish. Roseville-based Genentech clinical oncology specialist John Ladas helped deliver the “fireflies.”

“I don’t think it could have gone any better,” he said.

This was his seventh dream delivery throughout northern California and Reno, Nev. Out of their own pockets, volunteers paid for a cake for Wilson, four Nora Roberts books on CD because she can’t read anymore, the movie “Unstoppable” on DVD and a $75 gift certificate to Chevy’s.

“We want to add to it and make it as special as we can,” Ladas said. “It’s sad. It just pulls your heartstrings, it really does.”

But, he said, he considers his participation as a dream host the highlight of his career.

Sena Christian can be reached at