More than a year before she completed medical school, Allison Carilli was already in the business of caring for cancer patients.
As a third-year medical student, she and her husband, Jason started the Dreams of a Lifetime foundation, which works to make a difference in the lives of young adults diagnosed with cancer. The not-for-profit organization operates in a similar fashion to more widely known charities such as Make A Wish, but it serves patients 18 to 29 years old.
The Carilli’s work can be traced back to one patient at Shands Hospital who became a favorite of Allison and other medical students. TJ, a 21-year-old former football player, was in and out of the hospital due to the chemotherapy that was taking its toll on his body and his spirit.
“My fellow medical students and I decided finding something to lift his spirits was the least we could do for him,” Allison explains on the Dreams of a Lifetime Web site.
Jason Carilli was able to get his hands on a pair of box seats for a UF Gators football game.
“Upon hearing the news that he’d be going to a UF football game, TJ’s smile returned, and it was the widest and brightest yet,” Allison’s story continues.
The football game led to a Gators helmet signed by head coach Urban Meyer, an invitation from Meyer to watch the Gators practice for their upcoming national championship game, lunch with the team, and visits in TJ’s hospital room from the coach and star player Tim Tebow.
“When we saw how much TJ perked up, how he felt better and wanted to keep fighting, that’s when we realized that patients with life-threatening cancer diagnoses can still experience their dreams with the help of caring people,” Allison explains. “There was nothing available to help young adults, who still are so young and just kids whose lives should be beginning.”
Dreams of a Lifetime helps bring dreams to reality for the patients and provides them with hope, encouragement and inspiration.
The class of 2008 has been very supportive and involved with the Carilli’s foundation. Three days before graduation, the class presented Allison and Jason with a check for $5,000 from the commencement speaker’s honorarium fee. Another $1,661 was raised for Dreams of a Lifetime through a yard sale and book sale the class held.
“Cancer changes people,” Jason told the class. “The diagnosis and especially the treatment place a huge wall in front of people that they have to fight to get over. When we get to tell them what we’ve got planned for them, you can see the spark in their eye return.
“That’s who they really are. They remember why they are fighting.”
TJ passed away on Jan. 30, 2007, and the Carilli’s foundation was formed in March.
“TJ desired very much to be a part of this foundation, to help get it started, and to help other patients like him follow through with their dreams,” Allison says. “We are committed to upholding TJ’s wishes and to fulfill the dreams of those who may not otherwise have such an opportunity. To this day, he inspires us and drives us, and his memory will live on through us.”
Allison, mother of 7-month-old Amber, will remain in Gainesville for an internal medicine residency at Shands Hospital with plans to be an oncologist. She lost both her parents to cancer, and with her husband, works hard to help alleviate the suffering the disease brings to so many.