A 'dream day' for a local cancer survivor

March 25, 2010|By Jessica Anderson | Baltimore Sun reporter

Tamara Leak-Jones traded her green heels for rubber boots from the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

The Randallstown woman did not know she would be getting her feet wet next to the 28-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin named Chinook.

Leak-Jones, 33, started her day Wednesday at a BMW dealership in Towson, where she had been told she would talk to reporters about her four-year battle with breast cancer. Instead, she was greeted by an unexpected guest with other plans.

"The Experience Genie" - Joshua Dawson - dressed in a red suit and blue mask with bristly eyebrows and a black ponytail, was there to take Leak-Jones out for the day a day of pampering, beginning at the dealership to pick up a BMW Z4 - Leak-Jones' car for the day.

The Experience Genie brings sponsors together to fund a special day for people who typically are nominated by friends. Dawson, who dons the blue mask, started the Montreal-based company after his father died of cancer five years ago.

"We want them to make [recipients] feel like they are in a dream," Dawson said. Levonia Harper, director of an organization for African-American breast cancer survivors, received an e-mail from Dawson describing the business and immediately thought of Leak-Jones. On top of her struggle with cancer, Leak-Jones lost a 10-year-old son last year to H1N1.

"She's been through so much," said Harper, director of the Sisters Network of Baltimore "She's just a pillar of strength."

"It just touched our hearts when we heard how much she has gone through," Dawson said.

Leak-Jones needed to call her husband and her mother to let them know of the surprise, and to make sure that they picked her children up from school while she spent the day with the genie. She has a 16-year-old daughter, 13- and 7-year old sons, and two stepchildren.

Leak-Jones was whisked away in the BMW convertible with Dawson to check into her hotel room at the Hotel Monaco Baltimore. She had a crab cake sandwich and glass of wine before being the honorary guest at the 1 p.m. dolphin show.

Leak-Jones was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2006, when her youngest child was just 2 years old. She said she did not know whether she would live to see him graduate high school, but "I've had it all and I'm still here," she said.

Leak-Jones continues to suffer from lymphedema, swelling in her right arm. She wears a compression band up her entire arm.

Tears come to her eyes as she talks about her son, Jaylin Jennings.

"He had a very colorful personality," she said. "It's not easy - you have to take it one day at a time."

After the aquarium visit, Leak-Jones was treated to a massage at Spa Sante at Harbor East, before heading off to the Alicia Keys concert at 1st Mariner Arena.

The day was sponsored by Smartbox, an international company that sells "gift experiences."

"We want to give back to somebody who's been through so much," spokeswoman Michelle Aguilar said.

Leak-Jones said the day was "stress-free."

"I was really honored that someone wanted to do this for me," she said.

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