“I’m looking forward to the roller coaster ride, the log one,” said the Kings Springs Elementary School first-grader about Splash Mountain at Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
He’s also excited about meeting his favorite Disney character, the beloved Mickey Mouse.
Brandon is one of 13 children from Georgia, Tennessee and Indiana who were selected to participate in the 11th annual Bert’s Big Adventure all-expense-paid trip to Walt Disney World Feb. 21 to 25. They flew out of Atlanta on a private plane Thursday morning.
The trip is sponsored by the nonprofit organization and provides this adventure for children with chronic and terminal illnesses.
Shortly after his second birthday, Brandon was diagnosed with Juvenile Pilocytic Astoscytoma, which is a common form of brain tumor found in children.
He also has hydrocephalus, which is a build-up of fluid in the skull that causes the brain to swell.
Brandon’s mother, Laura, said her son is doing much better now and that her family is fortunate because doctors caught the cancer in the Stage 2 phase, which doesn’t require him to undergo radiation or chemotherapy treatments.
“He has to be watched closely because if it grows, it could go into another stage of cancer,” she said. “He will have to have MRIs for the rest of his life, too.”
Due to these precautions, Thomas said she’s been afraid to take her son on any major vacations because she’s always anxious about a hospital not being nearby.
But this trip will be a little different.
“(The Bert’s Big Adventure staff) told us not to worry about anything because they will have two doctors and a nurse on the flight with us,” Thomas said.
She learned about them being selected for the trip just before Christmas and surprised her three children with a card on the tree that explained their vacation.
“The experience is going to be great for our first trip to Disney … a great opportunity for the family to get away together and kind of relax,” she said. “Ever since Brandon has been going through this experience, I’ve been afraid to let him do too much.”
Thomas’ two oldest children, Randi and Marcell Thomas, will also be going with them to Florida for a five-day adventure full of rides, first-class service and special treatments.
The family of four will get to ride the rides at Disney World, check out the nightly Disney Fireworks show, visit the park’s aquarium and spend time with some of their favorite Disney characters.
Bert Weiss, the Bert’s Big Adventure co-founder, said when selecting families for the trip, they usually put children with brain tumors at the top of the list, but after talking to Laura Thomas, he knew they were a special family.
“Not only did his mom deal with Brandon’s brain tumor, but the family was homeless for some time and (her) older daughter was dealing with tumors as well,” he said. “Through it all, Brandon’s mom, Laura, always considered her family blessed. Now that’s a family that deserves to go on Bert’s Big Adventure.”