When Gloria Walker was diagnosed with late-stage bladder cancer last year, her son, Dustin Vitale, wanted her remaining days to be the best. So he asked her: “If there’s one thing in the world you can do, what would it be?’”
Gloria said she would like to see the pyramids in Egypt. She has always wanted to see them ever since she was little, but between raising a family, her job as a hospital dietitian, and her fear of flying, she never got the chance to.
Gloria didn’t want to travel alone or just go with her husband and Dustin’s stepfather, Tone. She wanted to go with her whole family, which had 14 members in all. But given the circumstances—her illness and the expenses—it all was a distant dream.
But Dustin found a way to make the trip possible by selling his famous cheesesteaks.
Dustin is an expert in cheesesteaks—both in making and eating them. The 26-year-old eats a cheesesteak at least two or three times a week.
The Cairn University graduate, who teaches history at First Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School, once took on the challenge of eating 100 steaks in 2018. He ended up exceeding that goal and ate 192 cheesesteaks in total.
That gave Dustin the idea of raising $10,000 for their Egypt trip by selling cheesesteaks from his home. And it’s even more special because he uses his mom’s recipe.
Dustin and his wife, Hailey, set up an outdoor kitchen on their deck and began making sandwiches so big no container could hold them. They first announced the cheesesteaks for sale on Dustin’s Instagram story, which friends, family, and his students helped share.
Soon enough, cars started double parking outside Dustin’s home. Even strangers began showing up at his door. Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov also heard of his story and met the couple at K’Far, one of his restaurants. He bought a bunch of cheesesteaks and posted his rave review on Instagram, which garnered plenty of attention.
“We didn’t know how long the hype was going to last, so we decided to just keep telling everyone and see how many we get,” Dustin said. “We ended up doing 94 in one day and we were like just blown away.”
A food truck operator also offered his services to help. And within six weeks, Dustin was able to exceed his goal and raised $18,000!
“If she would have asked to go to the moon, I would have made that happen, as well,” Dustin said.
The Egyptian government also heard about the family’s story and decided to give Gloria the VIP treatment during their May trip. The government let them see a sphinx, which wasn’t open to the public.
“She repeated over and over that it was the best thing she has ever done in her life,” Dustin said. “If you had seen her in Egypt, you would’ve thought she had three more years, but it ended up being three more weeks.”
As soon as they got home, Gloria was hospitalized. They released her so she could receive hospice care at home, where she passed away at 56.
Despite the devastating loss, the family is grateful that they got to spend Gloria’s final days fulfilling her lifelong dream.
“We created so many new memories that will last forever,” Dustin said. “It was all focused on her living her best life.”
Although his heart and passion are in teaching, Dustin hopes to one day open a cheesesteak restaurant in honor of his mom. He’s not sure when and where, but he knows what he’s going to name it: Gloria’s.
Dustin and Hailey are also pregnant with a boy expected to be born in the fall. They plan to name him Glory.
Here’s Dustin and Gloria’s story featured on CBS Evening News.
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