SYCAMORE – For Ian Steczo, the fall of 2010 was both a nightmare and an inspiration.
The 26-year-old Sycamore native lost a best friend who was 23 years old at the time to cancer.
Not long after, Steczo’s father was diagnosed with and eventually died from the same disease.
The back-to-back blows of losing two important people in his life in such a short time to the same disease left Steczo with a thought he decided to put on a T-shirt – cancer blows.
That motto has turned into a booming business for Steczo, who has sold more than 4,000 shirts with that slogan nationwide since 2011. A portion of all the proceeds go to the American Cancer Society, but Steczo hopes to grow the business so it can generate enough money for it to become his primary job and life’s work.
“The longer that Cancer Blows stays around, the more money we’re eventually going to give to the American Cancer Society,” he said. “The bigger we grow the business, the more people we are going to help.”
Though it is a for-profit business, Steczo said he still feels the responsibility and passion to expand the business to host community events such as Relay for Life walks and volunteer time at hospitals to visit with patients.
Chris Brown, a business partner with Steczo, said it is important to not lose sight of the goal of the company and its mission, especially during a month when some businesses profit from the extra attention.
Breast Cancer Awareness month throughout October is embraced by many businesses, but not always to the level of public perception. For example, a recent report showed the NFL has donated only $3 million to breast cancer research during the past four years of its annual monthlong campaign, and only 5 percent of the proceeds from sales of its limited-time “pink” merchandise goes to the cause.
“We want to become a foundation and event organizer that fuels the support and community we want to see grow,” Brown said of the difference between his business and others that jump on the cure-for-cancer cause for short periods of time. “We want it to be an uplifting experience.”
One local business that has been swept up in Breast Cancer Awareness month is Rural Girl Soup.
Gail Roloff, owner of the DeKalb-based soup and dessert delivery business, has partnered with the nonprofit organization Positively Pink Packages to raise money for the group. Roloff said 70 percent of all dessert sales will go to the organization in October.
As a woman and a mother, Roloff said breast-cancer awareness is an important cause for her, but she knows other businesses take advantage of the campaign.
“It comes down to your own ethics,” she said of being part of the campaign. “Unfortunately, there are going to be people that go out there and put pink ribbons all over their products.”
Cheryl Chilson, who operates the local Positively Pink Packages, said for-profit businesses are vital to the work of nonprofit organizations such as her group. She said she would not be able to make and deliver the care and resource packages to breast-cancer patients without the help of corporate sponsors such as KishHealth System, Greco & Sons in Bartlett, Curves and a number of salons and spas.
The only downside to the increased activity in October, Chilson said, is knowing she will have a busy month of preparing packages, as many women schedule doctor visits.
“The word is getting out there, and I’m happy about that,” Chilson said. “The women and people I meet make all the work so worthwhile. ... I don’t ever want to give this up.”