Today is National Cancer Survivors Day so it seems appropriate to talk about one of the most important things to come out of my survivorship. The Dear Jack Foundation. When I started Dear Jack 12 years ago, I honestly had no idea what I was doing or what the shape of my survivorship would look like. I was still in shock, reeling and trying desperately to reclaim a life that was now on permanent display in the museum of youth lost too soon. I would spend years attempting to reconcile that history and the mythology of my life prior to cancer. It was the beginning of a journey that continues to this day in earnest. It began at the intersection of my past, my hospital year and my unknown future, where at least one thing was abundantly clear; young people with cancer were getting a raw deal. We were under-researched, under-insured, unprotected and unprepared for the real-life tilt-a-whirl cancer strapped us to. A ride that with luck might let us off still spinning, but asking the difficult question….now what?
My fans, friends and family were truthfully the genesis of the Dear Jack story. It was their inclination to start raising money and awareness as I fought for my life that led to our humble beginnings. Reflecting on those days I am reminded that even as I wondered if my story might end in a hospital room on a hot summer day, the community I had built through my songs had already become activists for a cause I hoped to be well enough to champion one day. Luckily for me that day came and it is now the air I breathe each morning when I rise from bed. I may not have known where Dear Jack was heading when we started, but I have a tremendous sense of pride in sharing with you where we are today.
This past year has been a remarkable one to say the least. We have exceeded every benchmark we set for ourselves. Our LifeList and Breathe Now programs served more patients, survivors, caretakers and families than any other year on record. We nearly doubled the capacity of our reach. Between our 200k challenge, brand partnerships, touring income and special events we have had our largest fundraising year to date. We’ve also have the good fortune of welcoming an exciting new addition to our staff; program director Kayla Fulginiti. She holds degrees in social work and her previous posts include a staff position at City of Hope, where she was a pioneer in calling attention to the needs of Adolescent and Young Adults (AYA’s) facing cancer. Most recently she held a position at a Denver-based non-profit focused on suicide prevention. So much of the work we do at Dear Jack is based on the unique effects of cancer on the psyche of AYA patients and survivors and I’m so excited to have Kayla’s expertise as we continue to fine tune our outreach and program objectives
Simply put, we are growing exponentially thanks to the passion of our donor community, partner hospitals, DJF staff and those who have been directly impacted by the services we provide. The word is out about Dear Jack and it turns out, that when AYA’s hear about the thoughtful platform we have built, they are eager to join our community. Something I never could have dreamt up when we started. With luck and hard work this growth will continue in the years to come, allowing us to serve our community without ever having to turn away a patient or survivor whose cancer journey could be aided by the unique and transformative services we provide.
Thirteen years have passed since I joined the ranks of so many AYA cancer patients and survivors. I will admit, the early days of my activism were not easy. I had doors slammed in my face time and time again by people telling me that the issues of the adolescent and young adult cancer community were not significant enough to warrant specific attention. Today If you look up AYA Cancer I am pleased to say, you will find that the medical and philanthropic communities are starting to change their tune in a big way. I feel both proud and humbled by the fact that Dear Jack is regarded as the very first non-profit organization to step up and claim Adolescent and Young Adult cancer as a worthy and independent cause. I never intended to do such important work. Since the creation of Dear Jack and the implementation of our mission, AYA cancer has become a national conversation. When this began for me, I was just a sick young man surrounded by an incredible community who lifted me up and pushed me forward. In all honesty the best of the work we do as a foundation is based on a similar principal. Surround the patient, surround the survivor, surround the family. Give them love and hope and relief. What an honor it is for us to be there with them on their journey’s.
I hope you will join me for another year of growth. We launch our annual fundraising challenge this Thursday on 6/6/19. I personally invite you to help us continue raising our voices on behalf of AYA’s everywhere by joining the challenge. Please consider contributing, talking to your friends, families, communities, politicians, employers and anyone else who might be moved by the overwhelming needs of young cancer patients and survivors throughout our country and the world. It is through dialogue and awareness that we can turn the tide for young people fighting cancer. We are grateful to each and everyone of you, who through your passion for our cause is helping to educate the world about this important issue.
📸 Shane Timm