Local Non-Profit StacheStrong Raises Over $1 Million for Brain Cancer Research

StacheStrong — these are the words the Gerner Family has come to live by and are also the name of the organization started back in September 2017 when GJ Gerner was diagnosed with Glioblastoma brain cancer {GBM}GJ or “Geej,” as he was affectionately called, had his family by his side through his entire fight. We had an opportunity to chat with Colin Gerner, GJ’s brother and Hoboken resident, about his family’s story, his brother’s fight, and infectious spirit, and how StacheSrong has been able to raise almost $1,000,000 to support brain cancer research.

The Story

stache strong brain cancer non profit

Over Labor Day Weekend 2017, GJ Gerner went out to brunch with a group of friends on what seemed like a normal day. After ordering a round of drinks, the next thing he remembers was waking up in a hospital. Prior to his death — just over two years after diagnosis, GJ shared his experience in a documentary for the 2018 NYC Marathon. He told interviewers that he thought he maybe had too much to drink and that is what landed him in a local ER, but the reality was he had a seizure, which would be the first indication that something was wrong. 

Colin shares that the call he received from GJ’s friend telling him what happened made no sense at all. He arrived at the hospital to be by his brother’s side, which is right where he would stay through the duration of GJ’s fight. 

Medical professionals took MRIs and ran tests before notifying the family of the fact that a brain tumor was found and pretty immediate surgery would be needed within the next few days. GJ’s parents, George and Betsy, along with his sister Kelly joined Colin to be with GJ as well. 

“Our family was always super close so when my brother was diagnosed it was quite a shock, but we were built to withstand anything together,” shared Colin.

As the family prepared for GJ’s surgery, they were surprised to see his facial hair when he came out of the bathroom the night before. Colin tells us, “[GJ] knew he wasn’t going to be returning to work for a bit, so he shaved down into a mustache the night before brain surgery. My dad and I followed suit in solidarity and people soon took notice.” 

Founding StacheStrong

stache strong brain cancer non profit

Thus, StacheStrong was born. Here GJ was, getting ready to go through one of the most invasive surgeries any person could have to face, and he was making light of the situation and ready to fight with a smile on his face. “StacheStrong truly is a lifestyle. We’ve all experienced hardships in some manner, but it’s how we fight back, come together and triumph that defines us. Whether a tough day at work or an unexpected diagnosis like my brother’s, you can find a way to #LiveStacheStrong and overcome. My brother’s go-to line was always, ‘You can only control what you can control. So, take control of life where you can.’”

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GBM is the most common and most malignant form of brain tumors found in adults and results in approximately 15,000 deaths annually. In recent years, the families of both Senator John McCain and Beau Biden have brought GBM awareness to new heights as both succumbed to this deadly disease about three years apart.

As a form of therapy, Colin started creating a website to write about his brother’s fight and GBM. After the surgery, Colin showed GJ and asked his permission to go live with it. “I remember sitting down with him at my apartment and showing him everything and asking him if we should go live with this or not. He didn’t hesitate – he wanted to help others going through this diagnosis. We launched the website and decided to incorporate and turn our family rallying call into a 501(c)3 non-profit to raise funds and awareness for brain cancer research.” 

stache strong brain cancer non profit

The family went full force into not only living life to the fullest with GJ but helping others and supporting brain cancer research along the way. “Our initial fundraising events were ‘celebrations of life’ and an excuse for hundreds to see my brother for a night of socializing in the name of supporting brain cancer research. We flew by the seat of our pants, often 100 mph ahead, in the name of building StacheStrong.

Even after diagnosis, GJ lived life with confidence, compassion for others, and a joy that was unmatched. Experts say that life expectancy is about 10-15 months after diagnosis. GJ was able to double that timeline and lived for 25 months after that 2017 hospital visit. “It’s weird to be one of the “fortunate ones” when you only survive 25 months,” Colin shared. “But with GBM, that’s exactly what we were. We had so many memorable moments because my brother chose to live fully from day one. Ireland, hiking the Grand Canyon, NYC nights out, meeting his musical hero — Dave Matthews, shooting around with the UNC Basketball team, going to see his beloved New York Mets and Jets, golfing, and any time we were with family — just to highlight a few memories that I will forever cherish.”

After GJ’s passing, the Gerner Family has used StacheStrong to continue to support others who are living the same diagnosis they did. 

“We have now raised over $1,000,000 for brain cancer research, which is beyond exciting and promising. I get goosebumps mentioning that number and knowing what we’ve gone through to get to this point.” Colin talked about what he hopes StacheStrong can do for families who hear that dreaded diagnosis—something he wishes existed back in 2017. 

“The hardest thing is feeling alone and not having any answers when you first google Glioblastoma. It was a dark, dark search result four years ago — all we saw was the average life expectancy of 10-15 months, only 5% of those diagnosed survived 5 years, and on and on I could go. My brother was turning 29 and these were not things I was ready for. We were beyond fortunate that my brother had such a positive attitude, but we didn’t find a family or org that we could lean on in the very beginning. That’s what GJ and StacheStrong became for so many throughout his fight. People were able to find us in their initial Google search and have hope.”  

Inspiring Hope

stache strong brain cancer non profit

Colin wants people to know that life isn’t over at diagnosis. “I’d want them to know that this disease is certainly difficult, but there is so much life left to live and so many laughs and memories to be created.”

Each May, Brain Cancer Awareness Month is observed in the United States and StacheStrong has a new initiative for 2021 to support.  

“We’ve been working on a beer collaboration – #BrewStacheStrong – which has already become a national campaign. We have 200 participating breweries in 37 states across the country brewing a StacheStrong beer and serving throughout May for national brain tumor awareness month. A portion of proceeds will be donated to our organization to support our mission and we hope that each pint raised is 1 step closer to a cure,” said Colin. “It’s truly humbling to see so many breweries join our cause in year 1 for what is sure to become a major annual campaign. We’re projecting $250,000 raised from this campaign, which will allow us to launch multiple clinical trials.” 

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New Jersey Breweries participating include Angry Dad Brewery in Bloomingdale, Core3 Brewery in Clayton, Dr. Brewlittle’s in Maple Shade, and Eight + Sand Beer Co in Woodbury. 902 Brewing Co. in Jersey City will also be participating and will have StacheStrong beer available in June. 

To date, StacheStrong has been able to fund four clinical trials and plans to continue funding more in the future. “All this has me excited because it’s a measurable and tangible impact we’re able to have on an incurable disease. We are ultimately able to do this because of our supportive and generous donors.”

In addition to the #BrewStacheStrong initiative, the organization hosts a 5K race every September, with the 2021 race being held on September 18th. Details and registration opportunities will be announced in the coming weeks.

“StacheStrong has done some incredible things, but it ultimately allows me to share my brother’s story and keep his fight and spirit alive. It allows me opportunities like this article to ensure you know that he was the strongest, most humble kid with a smile that could light up a room. He worked his tail off as a CPA at EY, he was a devoted UAlbany alum and a proud member of Delta Sigma Pi. There were few things he loved more than the New York Mets and Jets, Carolina basketball, and Dave Matthews. He did things not for recognition, but because it was simply the right thing to do. Because of the example he set, we’re going to flip the script on this disease.” 

To learn more about StacheStrong and support the cause, visit www.stachestrong.org

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Jordan and Joelle, contributors and volunteer coordinators to HobokenGirl are true Jersey Girls. Originally hailing from down the shore in Hazlet, NJ, the girls made their "rite of passage" move to Hoboken a few short years after graduating with degrees in Communications from Loyola University. Outside of their 9-5 as senior publishers in NYC, the twins can be found baking cookies, reading the latest books, or walking their yorkie-poo Chica. Like many 20-somethings, Jordan and Joelle are balling on a budget and know how to score the best deals around town