MORRISTOWN, N.J. — It wasn't that he didn't love his brother David, or didn't care that cancer was killing him. John Rewick wanted to remember him as the older brother who had reared him after their parents died, not as the brother who was wasting away.
But David wanted to get together, and he relayed his wish to Happiness Unlimited, an organization that specializes in fulfilling requests from adults with cancer.
Lisa DeRosa, a volunteer for the group, persisted. She called John Rewick in California, again and again. When he seemed willing but didn't want to leave his wife and young son, she said they could come too.
Finally he agreed, and the organization flew them to New Jersey, to the home in Milford where his 54-year-old brother was waiting.
"As soon as I drove down to his house, it really hit home that this was a really wonderful, great thing," said John, 42. The brothers talked and reminisced. Those spring days in 1993 were their last together. David died that August.
The visit provided another reward. "We have some nice videotape," John said. "I can show my son who his uncle was."
In the 10 years since Happiness Unlimited was started, more than 600 requests have been granted. A number of groups fulfill the wishes of seriously ill children, but the Morristown-based organization exclusively helps adult cancer patients.
The organization was founded by Leigh Porges and Anne DeLaney. The New Jersey women met at a dinner and immediately clicked. DeLaney told Porges about her mother, who had died of cancer some years before, and how much it had meant to her to bring her family together one last time.
"I related that story to Leigh, and she said, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could do that for other families that can't afford to do so?' " DeLaney said. "Out of that conversation, we started Happiness Unlimited."
The organization works out of four hospitals in northern New Jersey: St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, Morristown Memorial Hospital, Overlook Hospital in Summit, and Union Hospital.
It started with a $50,000 donation from Porges' father, former Treasury Secretary William Simon.
The first wish granted sent a 28-year-old man to an NBA playoff game in Detroit, Porges said. "He took three friends, and none of them had ever been out of Union, [N.J.]. They had never been on an airplane."
The women decided early on not to limit wishes to those who were terminally ill. They wanted the program to be open to anyone suffering from cancer in any stage. They also wanted to focus on adults.
"Adults are just as needy as children are," Porges said. "Many, many times, adults struggle their whole lives to stay above water, to pay their bills, and then something like cancer happens. It's very, very tough."
People who cannot afford to fulfill their dreams on their own are allowed one request. It must be for an experience--having family members flown in for a reunion, visiting Disneyland, going to a Broadway play--not a material object.
"I don't think we're in the business of giving out televisions," DeLaney said. "It's to take someone away from the pain and agony of cancer."
The organization has 40 volunteers, or "wish managers," who belong to one of four hospital-based chapters. Once a wish request is approved, one volunteer will see it through.
The volunteer will call hotels and other businesses, asking them to donate services. Cash outlays are limited to $2,500, and recipients are encouraged to keep travel plans within the continental United States, although exceptions have been granted. One couple traveled to Fatima, Portugal, to renew their wedding vows.
Porges and DeLaney take pride in the fact that their entire budget goes to wish fulfillment. Their office space is donated, and the salary of their one staff person is paid by the four hospitals. The $100,000 the organization spends every year comes from fund-raisers.
The program worked for cancer survivor Albert Sims and his wife, Diane. They went on a cruise in June after Albert, 76, was treated for prostate cancer.
"He was worn down by the treatment," Diane Sims said. "It was such an uplifting thing. He was magnificent."