StacheStrong: How a mustache created a bond to fight brain cancer

StacheStrong: How a mustache created a bond to fight brain cancer

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MADISON Wis. (CBS 58) -- May is brain cancer awareness month. It can be a difficult month for those who have lost a loved one, but one organization is turning tragedy into hope.

In 2018, the Gerner family had their world turned upside down. GJ Gerner, a 29-year-old, received the news he had a golf ball sized tumor on his brain, later diagnosed as Glioblastoma (GMB). It's the most common and deadliest brain tumor that kills an estimated 15,000 people in the U.S. each year.

While the Gerner's struggled to wrap their heads around the diagnosis, GJ and his younger brother Colin decided to pay it forward to make the best out of an unfortunate situation.

It started with a mustache, which later kick started a movement to challenge others to join the fight against brain cancer.

"It was really just a family rallying call for my brother who went into brain surgery and shaved down to a mustache," Gerner said. "My dad and I followed suit. It was the only thing you can do when your older brother is going through this. I coined it as #StacheStrong and we started to grow them as organically as it could be."

Colin Gerner, president and co-founder of StacheStrong, launched the organization while his brother GJ was battling an incurable disease. To date, the non-profit has raised over $2 million for brain cancer research and funded 17 research grants and clinical trials.

After 25 months, GJ lost his fight against cancer in 2019, but his legacy and mission to help others carries on.

"The way he fought has allowed StacheStrong become what it is," Gerner said. "People see the way he lived during his diagnosis, see our family picking up the pieces, and continuing to move forward because we can't keep allowing this to happen."

Mustaches Making a Difference

During the 2018 Winter Olympics, one mustache on the world's biggest stage caught Colin's attention -- U.S. men's curler Matt Hamilton.

Hamilton received national attention for his stylish curling shoes, mustache and long hair which eventually turned into more than just a fashion statement.

The two-time curling Olympian from McFarland, Wis., decided to team up with StasheStrong to raise money and cut his hair for charity.

After growing his long locks for more than three years, Hamilton honored brain cancer awareness month by donating 12 inches of his hair to "Wigs for Kids," a charity for children experiencing hair loss.

"It's just hair, it will grow back," Hamilton said. "It's an opportunity to give some self-esteem to some kid who is going through chemo or alopecia. It's a confidence booster and hopefully we can make someone's life a little easier."

When Hamilton first joined StacheStrong, he didn't personally know anyone suffering from GBM, but that later changed after finding out about his uncle's diagnosis.

"Two, three months later, I found out my uncle had stage 4, and during the Olympics on Valentine's Day we got the news he passed away," Hamilton said. "Brain cancer and any cancer sucks, so any way I can contribute is good by me."

Through tragedy, a special bond was created between two men and their mustaches.

"I know every day I'm keeping my brother's name alive and helping a whole lot more people along the way," said Gerner.

Hamilton raised over $10,000 for StacheStrong.

The organization currently has a brewery campaign going on where each pint of beer donates $1 to their efforts to raise money for brain cancer research. If you would like to raise a pint, six Wisconsin breweries are participating in #BrewStacheStrong.

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