Nov. 21, 2013 at 10:58 AM ET
Indiana University junior Brian Levitas received the devastating diagnosis just weeks ago: He had cancer, specifically, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The news hit his buddies equally hard. But his two best friends seized on the timing of the Oct. 29 diagnosis, which coincided with the start of a national “No-Shave November” movement, to raise their friend's spirits while raising awareness about men’s health.
The friends recruited dozens of their buddies, all of whom have since ditched their razors and dedicated the month to Levitas. They also have raised nearly $60,000 for cancer research in his honor.
“When we got the diagnosis about Brian, we just wanted to control something and we knew we couldn’t be in the hospital with him treating him, so we tried to control the mental side of things,” Chad Silver said Thursday on TODAY.
They created their fundraiser with a $500 goal.
"Two hours later, we had raised $14,000," said Silver, who has known Levitas since grade school.
Levitas has had to withdraw from school to return home for treatment. He said the support of his friends has boosted his spirits during this difficult time.
“I’m feeling incredible,” he said Thursday from his home outside of Chicago. He then thanked the dozens of friends who had gathered on the Indiana University campus to appear on TODAY.
“They’ve literally put a smile on my face every single day that I wake up and make this 10 times easier for me,” he said. “With all their love and support, I can’t even begin to tell you, I’m just speechless.”
All the money the students are raising has gone to charity, not toward medical bills for Levitas. They have already donated $57,000 to the Lymphoma Research Foundation, and their new fundraiser will raise money for the Chicago branch of Children’s Oncology Services, which provides camp experiences for kids with cancer. The group has raised $2,000 toward the new goal.
The group’s “no-shave fundraiser” has inspired many others outside of Indiana University to participate, including Levitas’ father and younger brother, Allen, a University of Michigan sophomore now growing his first beard.
Levitas’ father, Gary, joked he can’t wait until he can shave off his beard on December 1, but spoke about how deeply moved he was by the effort of his son’s friends.
“It really showed that when the tough times hit, hit you right over the head, they were right there for him,” he said.
Friends of Levitas have spread the word about their “no-shave fundraiser” to friends on college campuses in Kansas, Texas, Illinois and across the country.
“The best part of the beards is that it’s a conversation starter,” said Silver, who, along with others, sends Levitas daily photos of his beard growth to help provide him with some cheer.
Levitas said he wouldn’t mind if his buddies keep their whiskers once the month is over.
“I kind of like the look,” he said. “It’s winter, so it keeps a little extra coat on the face.”
To learn more about how you can support the group's efforts, visit their site.