Know you’re not alone — You don’t truly know what cancer is until you are directly experiencing its impact. The cancer battle can often feel lonely, as if you and your family are facing these terrible circumstances by yourselves. Always remember you are not alone in this. There are so many outlets of support. The cancer community is so big and filled with people that know what you’re going through. Don’t be afraid to seek others out for counsel and guidance. Whether you are the patient, parent, sibling, or loved one; there are millions of people who are (or were) in your same exact shoes.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Danny Weishar the President and Founder of the Chicago-based grassroots charity, the Andrew Weishar Foundation (aka Weish4Ever). It was his older brother’s dying wish that his family pay forward the kindness they received during his treatment, and at 19, Danny founded the non-profit in his honor. Now 25, Danny works tirelessly to preserve the memory of his sibling while also providing financial and emotional relief for other families battling cancer. We caught up with Danny as he prepares for Weish4Ever’s annual charity fundraiser music festival, WeishFest (pronounced WishFest).
Thank you so much for joining us Danny! You were only nineteen when you decided to found Weish4Ever, during a time where most people get lost in grief. Can you tell us how you were able to channel your pain into the decision to found your organization?
I came home from college (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) for a month to spend as many days possible with my older brother Andrew before his time with us came to an end. During his final weeks, things took a turn for the worst and he needed 24/7 care. In an attempt to give my parents some reprieve, I sat at his bedside throughout each night and early morning. My brother — once a 250-pound football player — was down to skin and bone. He could no longer eat or drink, and sleep was made impossible due to his constant discomfort. I was in awe of the devastation that cancer brought.
However, it was not the life-ending illness that opened my eyes, but rather, each night I sat there inspired by how my 21-year-old hero carried himself through the struggle. No matter how small the task, he’d show gratitude with a genuine, “Thank you.” As more and more bad news rolled in, he responded with confidence and optimism. If we ever conveyed doubt or sadness, he would lift our spirits with a smile. And despite all he went through, the one and only request he had for us was to ensure other families are shown the same kindness that we as a family received. I was motivated by these moments with Andrew and from his selfless wish to bring joy to others in need.
Your organization primarily focuses on helping young adults and adolescents battling cancer. What made you choose this demographic?
Our organization has a very simple mission: Raise as much money as possible and give it directly to the families with adolescents or young adults battling cancer, to be there for these families, and ensure they know that they are not alone in this fight. We seek to make an immediate and direct impact. We chose this demographic for two specific reasons: it benefits the age-group that Andrew was in when he fought his battle, and it is a population that’s often overlooked by other large cancer resources.
You have raised over $1.6 million, thanks to your flagship music festival. That is quite an endeavor for a small organization. What made you choose a music festival for fundraising?
There are so many charities and worthy causes in the Chicagoland area. We knew that in order for Weish4Ever to grow and thrive for years to come, we had to build something big and unique. Cue WeishFest!
Our one-night event attracts over 3,000 attendees each December and has previously featured nationally-acclaimed headliners including Third Eye Blind, O.A.R. and Rodney Atkins. Most importantly, the attention attracted from the one-day festival has helped us give back almost a million dollars to families in need. All proceeds (post-event expenses) go directly to our beneficiary families battling cancer.
You work professionally as a Capital Markets Analyst and work to support Weish4Ever during the nights and weekends. All this juggling can’t be easy. What keeps you going?
Our beneficiaries drive me, each and every one of them. Having the opportunity to meet, hear the stories, grow close to, and make an impact on the lives of these families is truly life-changing. We all have busy lives with our own struggles and challenges, but you meet these families and everything is put into perspective. You forget about your personal burdens and seek to do more. My drive to continue to grow this organization and event results from that impact.
Can you share 5 things that you learned from your brother and his illness?
1. There is no “right way” — There is no playbook and everyone handles the news and battle in their own way. My brother was so special for many reasons, but one thing that stuck out during his bout with cancer was the way he made us all feel “okay” throughout his fight. Amidst the most difficult circumstances, Andrew kept things normal; deflecting attention and never seeking pity.
2. Normalcy is crucial — Don’t let cancer diagnosis change your attitudes and conversations, altering the way you interact. Spend as much time as possible with your loved one; ensure they know they have an ear to listen and shoulder to lean on, but he/she likely does not want you to feel pity. Be present, be yourself and focus on taking their minds off the realities they’re facing.
3. Find ways to “escape” — During Andrew’s 3-year battle, his greatest highlights were the “escapes” from the treatments and realities of his diagnosis. Andrew’s time with his family, friends, and moments of everyday, normal activities, provided needed reprieve from the realities he was facing.
4. Accept the help! — Don’t be too prideful to accept the generosity that will be shown to you. Upon hearing the news, friends, family, and even complete strangers will want to lend a hand. You might “feel bad” or even “embarrassed” to accept such kind gestures. We have this innate pride and reluctance to allow others to make a sacrifice or go out of their way for us. Don’t feel bad. Let others have the opportunity to show their love and support. You deserve it. When given the chance later on, you can “Pay it Forward.”
5. Know you’re not alone — You don’t truly know what cancer is until you are directly experiencing its impact. The cancer battle can often feel lonely, as if you and your family are facing these terrible circumstances by yourselves. Always remember you are not alone in this. There are so many outlets of support. The cancer community is so big and filled with people that know what you’re going through. Don’t be afraid to seek others out for counsel and guidance. Whether you are the patient, parent, sibling, or loved one; there are millions of people who are (or were) in your same exact shoes. And we’re here to help.
Your organization is celebrating your fifth year — a major milestone for any non-profit. Do you feel that you’ve ‘made it’?
We feel this is just the beginning! Our hope is that Weish4Ever will be an outlet to assist hundreds and hundreds more families throughout the country. While we are lucky to have developed an event model that can be replicated and scaled, we truly are a grassroots fundraising initiative. We haven’t yet had that major celebrity, political, or huge corporate grant-type backing that helps propel young local charities into large organizations. We’re excited to continue to seek out these partnerships, constantly growing the reach and awareness of our mission and music festival. We’re thrilled to be building a reputation of excellence in the cancer community, “paying it forward”, all in Andrew’s name.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow the charity and music festival on social media channels @Weish4Ever and @WeishFest.
Originally published at medium.com