By Tiffany Merlo Phelps
When Anne Borngesser Bean and her late husband Jim Borngesser found out that he had appendix cancer in January 2013, Jim very quickly coined the term “cancer bonus.”
“The day that you recognize your first cancer bonus is the day that you realize that cancer won’t win every day,” said Bean, explaining that finding something good that happened because of cancer is so important and impactful.
Jim and Anne would drive to cancer appointments early in the morning, which meant that the traffic was light and easy. Cancer bonus. Anne always wanted a Vitamix blender, but didn’t want to splurge. Jim eventually needed his food to be liquified, so a Vitamix was donated to them. Cancer bonus. Friendships were rekindled, and family relationships got stronger. Definite cancer bonus.
Anne said that the community gave so much to her family during Jim’s cancer battle (gifts that Jim had a hard time accepting) that it motivated him to continue fighting. He wanted to be able to return the favor and help other families struggling to find travel funds for medical treatment.
“When Jim moved to hospice and had a limited time to live, he expressed frustration that he didn’t have enough time to do all the things he wanted to do to help people,” said Anne.
Jim passed away on March 25, 2017, at the age of 51. By September, Anne and Jim’s sister, Susan Kalmuck, started The Dream Big! Foundation to carry on Jim’s legacy — one of kindness and always giving to others. The Dream Big! Foundation helps families financially who have to travel for cancer-related treatment (near or far).
“Our goal is to get people money as fast as we can,” said Anne. “We have made it as unrestricted and as easy as possible.”
Anne and Jim traveled to New York City for four years of treatment, so gift cards and cash from others made life out of town so much easier. Anne credits those treatments at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center under the care of Dr. Garrett Nash with giving Jim precious time to see two of their children graduate high school and to watch one child begin college.
Also, Jim asked his children to tell him something that they absolutely wanted to do with him before he passed. For Maggie (now 25 years old) it was the opportunity to walk down the aisle with her father so that she could hold onto that feeling for when her real wedding day took place one day. Once others found out about her wish, 250 people attended to watch and the choir sang as Jim walked Maggie down the aisle at San Juan Del Rio Catholic Church.
“He made it more about her. He gave that to her,” said Anne. “We were in a very good spot when he passed away. He helped us get there. It was an amazing gift.”
These memories drive Anne and her family to continue building Jim’s legacy.
After applying and providing cancer diagnosis verification, Dream Big! recipients must submit two other items: a recipe of their favorite comfort food during treatment and their cancer bonus, the silver lining that Jim so embraced. The recipes will soon be published in The Dream Big! Foundation Cookbook to raise further funds.
Dream Big! recipient and breast cancer survivor Liz Oliver, 39, said that when she received her cancer diagnosis in July 2018, Anne, who she knew through her brother, encouraged her to apply. The gift cards enabled her to travel from Panama City to Sarasota and California for treatments and paid for many costs that the insurance company did not cover, especially holistic treatments and supplements.
“They were a light in a dark moment. Just very good people doing great things for others,” said Oliver.
Her cancer bonus: “I became a better person. I learned to reprioritize my life. I experienced three years of growth, and I enjoy every day now, even on hard days. I am even closer with family and friends.”
John Hudson, a neighbor and friend of Jim and Anne’s, was so inspired by Jim and by The Dream Big! Foundation that he dedicated his 50th birthday party to the cause in June 2020. He had a backyard party with The Rivertown Band, invited 80 people, asked everyone to make a donation in lieu of a gift and raised $2,500. It was such a success that Hudson suggested another event, The Dream Big! Backyard Bash, in Ponte Vedra Beach in April. Tickets were sold, 25 volunteers assisted, and $10,000 was raised. Hudson hopes to make this an annual event.
“It was a fantastic community event for a great cause,” said Hudson, who met Jim at the Rotary Club of St. Johns in 2009. (Anne is also a Rotarian.)
For more information about The Dream Big! Foundation, email Anne at email@example.com. Dream Big! t-shirts are also available for sale, and all proceeds are donated to assisting families. The St. Johns Rotary Jim Borngesser Memorial Dream Big! Golf Tournament will be held on Nov. 19, and those interested in playing should call Anne at (904) 392-9236. It will be held at the St. Johns Golf and Country Club with the Rotary Club of St. Johns supporting Dream Big! for the fifth year.
Photo courtesy Anne Borngesser Bean
Dream Big! Backyard Bash was held in Ponte Vedra in April