Naperville boy fundraises for pancreatic cancer research after grandmother diagnosed
Naperville's Wes Selby decided he wanted to show that children can make a positive difference in the world, after learning his grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Wes, 12, a sixth-grade student at Scullen Middle School in the city, was spurred to start selling his designs of a custom-made gym shoe and streetwear to raise money for nonprofits dedicated to research for early detection tests -- and potentially a cure -- for pancreatic cancer. The merchandise is sold through his W3S brand, which he wants to become a "modern symbol of a good cause."
"It's cool to just see my family sort of proud and stuff," said Wes, who enjoys playing golf, football, lacrosse and basketball.
Wes said he felt helpless when his grandmother, 73-year-old Arlene "Lee Lee" Tellis, was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in August. Already into drawing shoe and logo designs, he threw himself into creation of the sneaker that honors his grandmother's favorite words to him: "I love you to the moon and back."
His shoe is called Moonflag12 and has an image of man landing on the moon on the inside flap of the tongue. The red, white and blue shoes are handmade in Italy.
Selling for $189, the shoes can be purchased directly from the manufacturer at aliveshoes.com/W3S, with a cut of the proceeds sent to W3S for the pancreatic cancer research contributions.
Wes' mother, Kiersten, said W3S' donations likely will go to Lustgarten Foundation in Woodbury, New York -- the largest private funder of pancreatic cancer research in the world -- and Chicago-based Rolfe Pancreatic Cancer Foundation.
Selby said her family is fronting the expenses for the clothing production sold from the W3S online store at w3s.launchcart.store/shop. Sweatshirts, long-sleeved shirts and hoodies featuring the W3S logo are among the selections at varying prices.
Tellis, a resident of Orange Park, Florida, moved in with her daughter's family in Naperville in early February and is receiving treatment at Northwestern Medicine Cancer Center in Warrenville. She said she was overwhelmed when she learned Wes wanted to use his shoe and clothing designs to benefit people diagnosed with cancer.
Wes' fondness of Tellis' pet phrase means a lot to her.
"Ever since he was 4 and I would always say good night to him or send him cards, I'd say, 'I love you to the moon and back' and I would draw little pictures for him," Tellis said. "And then to hear that he used that phrase and that's what inspired him for the design of these marvelous sneakers just brought tears to my eyes."
Wes said he's raised at least $1,000 since the shoes went on sale in January -- an effort his mother was willing to promote on her Facebook page after he received his first four orders. The clothing line was added a few weeks ago.
Selby said her family includes Wes' 14-year-old brother, Trent, and her husband, Brad. Wes' initiative has touched everyone.
"We didn't expect this to turn into something," Selby said. "It is a dark journey, and this really is a bright spot for us all and it's nice to see grandma proud and Wes feel proud that he's doing something to help. You know, a big thing that we talk about a lot in our home is kids helping, but when someone is sick, kids feel helpless."
Lustgarten notes that an American Cancer Society 2020 report shows an expected increase in the incidence of pancreatic cancer this year. Lustgarten officials said that demonstrates the continued need for early detection research.
Pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of 9%, according to Lustgarten. The cancer society estimates about 57,000 people will be diagnosed and 47,000 people will die from pancreatic cancer in the United States this year.
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