Working with individuals in our local communities is essential to the Solomon Page identity as advocacy enriches our diverse culture. Furthering this mission with our SP Cares initiative, we remain devoted to the communities we serve. Our March and April fundraiser for The DezyStrong Foundation, an organization that creates experiences for individuals with cancer to maintain a positive mentality, was successful and began dialogue within our teams. In addition to our fundraiser, Solomon Page had the opportunity to interview Bryan Kuhl on the Board of Directors from The DezyStrong Foundation to discuss the organization’s mission, events, and advocacy.
Founded in 2019, The DezyStrong Foundation was established following Matthew “Dezy” DiStefano’s diagnosis of Stage 4 Kidney Cancer. As a lifelong athlete and educator, Dezy sought ways to motivate and inspire others across the United States during his own cancer battle. Spreading the “Strong Mind, Strong Body” message emphasized a positive mindset and a sustainably healthy lifestyle. Bryan stated, “Dezy was so moved by the support that he received, that he wanted to pay it forward to those that did not have access to the same support he received. He spent his final months speaking to schools and other organizations to share his experience battling cancer.” Speaking at schools across the United States, including Duke and Hofstra, Dezy sought to spread the message “We GET to...” Bryan continued by saying, “In his speeches, he communicated that not only does fighting cancer take a tremendous physical toll on your body but that it is also in your head every day. He believed that in order to fight cancer you need a strong mind as well as a strong body.” While asserting power is not always possible daily, vulnerability is part of human nature. Dezy believed that people battling cancer sometimes just need an escape. This continues today as the organization strives to create opportunities for individuals and their families to reconnect and create memories at such a critical time. Bryan provided a recent example of the organization’s work, “We gave support to the family of a young cancer patient so they can spend a week at the Great Wolf Lodge in Lake George NY – so that the kid can just be a kid. Playtime for him. Something the family needed for him but couldn’t afford because of their mounting medical bills.” Escapism is essential to an individual’s journey as cancer should never define the person. Focusing on one individual’s battle is imperative to their own story. The DezyStrong Foundation continues the narrative.
Personal Battle, Global Crisis
About 1.9 million people in the United States were diagnosed with cancer in 2022. Even as new treatments become available, the daunting phrase, I am sorry, you have cancer is still uttered across the world. Once a diagnosis is delivered, the world feels like an unknown and fearful place. However, cancer of all kinds has touched the lives of everyone. While it may be comforting to imagine you are not alone, it is important to never clump the experiences of people battling cancer into a single identity. Each fight is extremely personal. It goes beyond specific medications or treatments, as the battle intercepts two fronts. First, cancer as it impacts the body physically, and second the mental and emotional trauma as a consequence of the physical nature of cancer. Exhibiting empathy and compassion is essential to recovery, Bryan continued by saying, “People with cancer are often inundated with stories of treatments that helped someone else somewhere. While well-intended, it often causes the person more stress. It’s better to ask them what they are thinking and how they are feeling. It’s so important. Remaining strong and positive also goes a long way. As Dezy used to say, cancer messes with your mind. It’s important to always have strong and positive attitudes. They need that.” Each diagnosis is distinct, and people respond to medications differently. Acknowledging the diversity of experiences helps create a space where individuals battling cancer feel heard and valued. Our own vocabulary can be an important first step in the process. Often simply defined as patients, people battling cancer are often seen as fragile or isolated from society. This label can further seclude individuals with cancer especially when the effects of cancer and treatments cannot be seen in an individual’s appearance. Redefining the label patient, The DezyStrong Foundation uses warriors, even more specifically, DezyStrong Warriors. Providing agency to individuals battling cancer can offer a sense of normalcy to a period in their life that is incredibly undefined.
While there are many ways to support individuals battling cancer, it is first important to keep in mind, “No matter how bad it gets, always remember that today IS a GREAT day – because it’s another day we get to hug our loved ones, we get to share our time with friends and family, we get to live. Every day should be appreciated for what it is,” Bryan said. Our lives are short, and it is important to spend time with loved ones; developing memories we can hold on to for years to come. Unfortunately, solely creating essential memories and sharing experiences is not the reality of many battling cancer. One in four cancer survivors struggle to pay medical bills. The mental toll of living with cancer or being a caregiver is difficult to comprehend. Simply asking How can I help? or What can I do for you? can begin an open conversation about how individuals are feeling and determine ways you can support them on their own terms. Respecting an individual’s privacy is important as they may not want to or feel prepared to share their experiences. Bryan clarified the foundation’s financial responsibility, “By donating to foundations such as ours, while helping provide financial support for those whose cost of treatment exceeds their insurance and personal limitations, we also support those by providing experiences that gives them a break from the grind of going through treatment. We understand how the mental toll living with the disease can be, so we try to help foster a strong mind by giving cancer patients something to let them live and enjoy their life.” Briefly forgetting the financial and social burdens related to fighting cancer, The DezyStrong Foundation creates valuable moments of time with loved ones. Raising awareness goes beyond financial contributions – simply beginning the conversation with people battling cancer and caregivers supports their own physical and mental wellbeing.
Since the organization’s founding, The DezyStrong Foundation has held many events promoting its mission of supporting and advocating for people with cancer. The organization’s two upcoming events, 2nd Annual Dezy Beach Warrior Classic on August 5th in Long Beach, NY and the 4th Annual Dezy Classic Golf Outing provide a variety of ways for participants to interact with the cause through being a participant, viewer, or volunteer. Many previous support recipients continue to play an active role in the organization’s events and fundraising efforts. The commitment to The Dezy Strong Foundation runs throughout Long Island communities and beyond as they preserve the organization’s events and mission. Bryan praised the community response, “Those of us at the foundation are continually inspired by the dedication to the cause in our community. Every Thursday in the Sachem School District, where Dezy was a teacher, is Dezy Thursday – all of the students wear DezyStrong Shirts to show their support. We absolutely love our supporters for their enthusiasm and dedication.” While the organization forges ahead, supporters still remember its founding and strive to uphold Dezy’s mission of providing opportunities for individuals to define their own lives without being controlled by cancer. Speaking to Dezy’s legacy, Bryan stated, “Dezy would be both humbled and excited regarding the success of the events and foundation. This was a legacy he wanted to leave behind. We know he’s watching and happy with what he is seeing.”
We would like to thank The DezyStrong Foundation and Bryan Kuhl for contributing to this article. Our communities are essential to our organization, and we are honored to share their voices. Looking to get involved in The DezySrong Foundation? Follow the organization on Instagram and Facebook, and check out the DezyStrong Foundation website to register for upcoming events.