No prom? No problem. We'll make our own memories.

We learned there are always reasons to be thankful. Sometimes you just have to search a little harder. We learned that people have an amazing capacity for kindness.

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Craig is the father of St. Jude patient Ingram, who was treated for anaplastic ependymoma. He and his wife, Ashley, have shared the family’s story at fundraising events around the country and with VIPs visiting St. Jude. The whole family, including Ingram and his sisters Madison and Lindsey, also raises money as St. Jude Heroes for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon.

Craig Dismuke

To the rites of spring we’re missing — from the Kentucky Derby to the Masters — add this lesser-known but perhaps more poignant loss:

Senior proms.

Just ask my daughter Madison. But don’t worry about her. Fortunately, she knows a little something about coping with life’s unexpected challenges. Ingram, Madison’s little brother, was treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for a rare brain tumor. And as we all coped as a family with a life-threatening illness, we also learned so much.

We learned there are always reasons to be thankful. Sometimes you just have to search a little harder. In the middle of life’s valleys, that’s not a natural inclination. But in reality, it’s the valleys that help bring clarity to our lives.

And we learned that people have an amazing capacity for kindness. We saw it time and time again on our St. Jude journey. From the grace and mercy of others, we took hope and strength. It helped get us through.

So during these uncertain times of the coronavirus, we’re drawing on those lessons learned. Our family is making memories. We’re having special themed dinners — and one of them turned out to be a pretty memorable substitute for that senior prom Madison isn’t going to have.

It began with a message on our family text stream. Madison told us all — my wife Ashley and I, her sister Lindsey, Ingram, and my father Keith — to dress up that night for a steak dinner.

I thought I’d surprise them by wearing a tuxedo — I’d bought it three years before, for a St. Jude event, and hadn’t worn it since. Now was the perfect chance to dust it off.

Turns out I wasn’t overdressed a bit. When I walked out, my wife had on a formal dress, and Madison had on her prom dress. Madison and Lindsey had dressed Ingram up, like big sisters like to do. And my father wore some kind of Texas bowtie.

It quickly turned into a Prom Dinner. It wasn’t planned, just turned into it.

Sure, it’s disappointing Madison won’t get to experience so many of the senior-year events that we all take with us for the rest of our lives. Those are one-time-only touchstones. But having been a patient family at St. Jude, we know these are just minor inconveniences in life. 

I suspect she’ll look back on our dinner, on all of this time, and remember it just as vividly as I remember my senior prom. The memories will be different, but no less a part of who she is.

We’re a stronger family because of our experience with St. Jude. Because of the lessons we learned, the perspective we gained. I see it with Madison and Lindsey.

When Ingram was diagnosed, his sisters wanted to do something to help. So they joined the St. Jude cause by fundraising. They set up meetings with business leaders and made presentations about childhood cancer, St. Jude and their little brother. They made a video to further spread the word. They recruited more than 180 people to a fundraising team for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon.

I see it with Ingram, too. He’s a fifth-grader now, a typical 11-year-old in some ways. He walks around the house making noises, trying to annoy his sisters. In reality, he’s quite unique. He has what I think is an uncommon amount of empathy and compassion for others.

He’s always asking about how others are doing. He has a list of people he prays for every night. He prays for the doctors, nurses and patients at St. Jude. I really don’t know how to describe him, and I become emotional just thinking about it.

He’s just uniquely compassionate.

And I think we all have that capacity. I know we do. To be kind, to do good, to show the very best of humanity, at times like these, when things are the hardest.