The Artisan, The Compassionate, and The Conqueror

With these empowering nicknames, the Dismuke family helped their three children face down cancer.

Ashley & Craig Dismuke with their children: Lindsey (9), Madison (10), and Ingram (5)

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Several years ago, the Dismuke family had settled into a comfortable routine. Craig Dismuke, a 39-year-old economist at Vining Sparks, would commute to his office from Germantown while his wife, Ashley, tended their three young children. They toasted weekends with cookouts and trips to Shelby Farms. Life was easy, even good — until cancer stopped this young family in their tracks.

It was April 2012 when the couple learned that their 3-year-old son, Ingram, had a rare form of childhood brain cancer, anaplastic ependymoma. Life changed overnight. Their days filled with tests and appointments, before Ingram was admitted to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital where he underwent surgery to remove an egg-sized tumor in his brain. Now, Craig headed to work after the girls left for school, and Ashley stayed at her son’s side as he adjusted to radiation treatments at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

For 10-year-old Madison, learning her little brother had cancer “was the worst day of my life.” Later, when Ingram came home sad and tired, it was Madison who held him as he watched his favorite movies, and patiently played board games in hopes of raising his spirits. But the sixth-grader wondered if there was something more she could do to help her family.

Before cancer, her father had nicknamed Madison, The Compassionate, in honor of her concern for others. Yet even he could not have predicted how Madison would support her brother and other St. Jude patients.


Building an army of supporters

The Germantown family was well-acquainted with St. Jude’s mission. After her parents ran in the 2011 St. Jude Memphis Half-Marathon, Madison set up her own fundraising team. “I started thinking about fundraising in March 2012. Then in April, Ingram was diagnosed with cancer. That set a higher boost for our team because he was going to St. Jude,” says the Houston Middle School student.

Madison began a crusade that involved herself, her younger sister, Lindsey, and 30 of their friends and classmates. “It was really crazy at first,” she recalls. “In the first few days after Ingram was diagnosed, I started crying in school. My friends knew what was wrong. I asked them if they wanted to join our team, and most said they could. A lot of my friends had lemonade and cookie stands for the team.” Loyal friends sought donations from their relatives for Team Ingram, too.

Then the honor roll student sat down with her dad for a talk. She wanted to know how to raise big money for Team Ingram. “We had to talk her down from her original $1 million goal,” says 38-year-old Ashley. Madison figured she and Lindsey could each raise $100,000 for St. Jude.

So while their brother endured radiation and chemo treatments, Team Ingram powered up. Craig suggested Madison and Lindsey visit local businesses to ask for support; he even developed a presentation they soon memorized. Madison began to speak in company boardrooms, with 9-year-old Lindsey by her side. Even when the family traveled, the sisters kept up the pace, speaking before their grandfather’s co-workers in Texas and to members of Tri Delta sorority. Eventually, Madison even presented before 1,500 members of the A.L.S.A.C. team.

Then Madison had a bigger idea. Why not ask Apple Inc. for support? She learned the company required a video from groups seeking funding. “With a video, we could show more people what we were doing and ask for more help,” says Madison. “We sent it to people all over the country and all over the world.” Though Apple didn’t bite, the poignant video touched many others.


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