In May of 2005, Dan Waeger was living the life of any normal person his age. At the age of 22, he was working as the Assistant Golf Coach for both men and women’s teams at Division I Wagner College in Staten Island, NY. In addition, Dan was pursuing his MBA in Finance.
In the midst of taking final exams, a persistent cough developed which made him short of breath. Not worrying, Dan continued with his daily regimen which consisted of a 3 or 4 mile run as he trained for the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon in San Diego, CA.
Struggling to even breathe while at rest, Dan checked himself into the hospital on May 13, 2005. After being admitted to the hospital, physicians discovered that 1.5 liters of fluid had accumulated around his heart. After surgery on his heart to remove the fluid, Dan was diagnosed with cancer a few days later on May 18, 2005.
Cancer can begin in any organ or tissue of the body. The primary site usually takes the name for the part of the body or the type of tissue in which the cancer begins. In Dan’s case, the site or origin of the cancer was unknown when he was diagnosed, and thus, was designated “Cancer of Unknown Primary” or (C.U.P.). Cancer of Unknown Primary accounts for only 3-5% of all cancers. After further testing in February 2006, Dan’s diagnosis was changed to Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) – Adenocarcinoma. Today, 10-15% of all new lung cancer cases are nonsmokers just like Dan. As the child of parents who never smoked, and the youngest of 5 siblings who never smoked, Dan’s lung cancer diagnosis was incredibly surprising.
Dan was often asked what he thought when he heard those words- “You have cancer.” Of course he was scared- who wouldn’t be? But he also knew that he was facing a potentially life threatening and debilitating disease & he could do 1 of 2 things: feel sorry for himself or stand up and fight…Dan knew he had no choice but to fight.
Within months of his diagnosis, Dan founded the National Collegiate Cancer Foundation (NCCF) with the goal of providing financial support to young adult cancer survivors who are pursuing higher education throughout their treatment and beyond. Dan recognized the difficulties of trying to continue studies while going through treatment, and recognized all the extra costs involved, especially if you couldn’t hold down your regular part-time job. He also felt extremely blessed for the love and support he received during treatment and wanted to do what he could to help those in a similar situation. In order to raise money to finance the scholarships, the first Waeger C.U.P. golf tournament was held in October 2005, raising enough for the first ten scholarships to be given out that fall.
Dan battled through almost 4 years of various treatments – IV chemotherapy, Tarceva, radiation, Alimta, 2 major surgeries, fluid drains, and more – all with a WILL WIN attitude. He passed away on March 16, 2009. But that is not the end of Dan’s story. Because there were many wonderful things that cancer could not take from Dan. Cancer did not take his smile. Cancer did not take his willful optimism. It did not take his hope. And it will not take his legacy. Through his example, he challenged others to be active in their own lives – to be proactive, to be a participant, to be accountable, and to be willing to make a meaningful difference in the world. Dan’s legacy will live on through NCCF and the Waeger C.U.P.