February 11th, 1997 --- July 10th, 2019. These are important dates to all of us at the JWEGSTRONG Foundation. The first date bringing so much joy. The second bringing such sorrow and difficulty. However, we know what is far more important is that dash in between. For that dash represents the 22 years we spent with Justin Wegner. Those who had the privilege to know and love him, know exactly how much that little line is worth.Donate
From the start, Justin was an active, lovable and cheerful kid, bringing such joy to all around him and being a friend to all. Drawn to sports at a young age, you can find Justin playing, soccer, basketball, football, water polo and baseball - some of his many passions. He met his best friends Marky and Brett at five years old through sports. His personality and activeness were also molded by his participation in Cub Scouts and Webelos. He made numerous friendships at Elmwood Elementary and Lincoln Junior High.
Justin furthered his growth at the place he held dear - Naperville Central High School. His passions throughout the four years of course, included sports, playing baseball and football all four years. His work ethic, desire to lead, and always compete were evidenced by a few career highlights. He was a starter on the teams both junior and senior year, winning a football state championship, receiving All-Conference honors in baseball, and receiving the school’s prestigious Red & White Leadership award granted to a single baseball player each year.
His remarkable accolades and athletic achievements could only be outdone by the admiration and respect he earned from everyone at the school. Entering High School, Justin took the advice of his mother: “spread your wings and try new things.” With this advice, Justin’s character was shaped - positively impacting the lives of so many due to eagerness to try new things, meet new people and always care for others.
Outside of sports, Justin participated in business clubs, campaigns, and other school activities. He was one of a select group of students to receive admission into the J Kyle Braid Foundation’s week-long leadership retreat in Colorado, where he sharpened his desire to make an impact. Soon after his experience with the foundation, Justin headed the school’s (Be)3 Anti-Bullying Campaign - running events, raising awareness, and being the school’s leader in “being the third” person in an incident to put a stop to bullying. His passion of making a difference was bolstered further by his involvement in the adaptive PE Program, working with and supporting students living with special needs on a daily basis.
To no surprise, Justin’s teachers identified him as one of their favorites given his enthusiasm for participating and helping others in the class.
Among his favorite subjects were Business, Computer/Tech, and History. As a senior, Justin added to his long list of achievements, being selected the Business Student of the Year. If you were to ask Justin, he would tell you his four years in high school were the best years of his life, made possible by the amazing people he met and the lifelong friendships he formed.
Justin’s academic and athletic achievements earned him an opportunity to further his baseball career at an extremely successful Division III program, The University of Wisconsin Whitewater (“UWW”). The school’s educational focus, strong athletic programs, and attraction of good and friendly people made UWW the perfect destination for Justin.
The day he stepped on campus, Justin picked up where he left off at high school, immediately making the best of friends on and off the field where his personality drew everyone to him. His love for baseball was evident in the time he devoted to getting better every day. It paid off as he was one of very few newcomers to start in many of the games his freshman year, earning respect from his teammates and coaches from the beginning. His very first season, Justin was a contributing member of the UWW team that went on to compete in the Division III College Baseball World Series - a remarkable experience.
Soon after this exciting time, when Justin returned home from the World Series, a constant chest pain brought him to the family physician where tests led to the fateful diagnosis. In the summer leading to his sophomore year of college, Justin was diagnosed with Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor Sarcoma (“DSRCT”). The news took our breath away. Our entire world turned upside down.
Upon receiving the news, while shook, Justin refused to seek pity. As he always did with any challenge, Justin stood tall and confident - and of course, with a smile on his face. He was ready to attack this disease.
Given the rarity of the cancer, we researched extensively to find a doctor with experience treating DSRCT - which was a challenge. We were soon connected with Dr. David Walterhouse of Ann & Robert Lurie Children’s hospital in Chicago, IL. After an immediate connection with Dr. Walterhouse, our journey began.
Justin went through five months of extremely aggressive chemotherapy at Lurie’s, spending countless days and nights in the hospital. The disease was so rare, Justin eventually had to be relocated to Houston, TX for three months in December of 2016. Dr. Andrea Hayes-Jordan at MD Anderson in Houston was the only pediatric surgeon in the country performing the needed HIPEC surgery - an extensive operation lasting over 15 hours. The surgery was followed by 20 rounds of intensive radiation, five days a week, focused on his abdomen and pelvis. Justin and his family returned home on in February of 2017 – awaiting scan results. Unfortunately, the scans showed the cancer had spread further and the family was forced to journey back to Houston so Dr. Hayes-Jordan would now operate on his lungs. After another long stay in Houston, Justin returned home and started a new chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Despite the grueling battle, Justin focused on one thing - his goal of returning to UWW for classes in the fall. Sadly, the obstacles kept coming, requiring two more surgeries in August and October of 2017, delaying chemotherapy treatment. Justin never caught a break, yet he refused to give up, and with the help of Dr. Walterhouse, he was determined to find something that would work.
Amidst the battle, Justin did everything he could to maintain “normalcy.” Justin, his friends and his family went on vacations. From Cabo to Vegas, California to Florida - he soaked in every bit of time he had feeling “good” and creating everlasting memories with those he loved. He also spent his summers working back stage at Naperville Rib Fest. Justin refused to let cancer define him, and his attitude and perspective on life brought hope and joy to all around him.
As we got into 2019, the battle became more and more difficult, leaving Justin sick much of the time, unable to eat, and with constant trips to and from the hospital. However, these devastating moments never changed his fighting spirit, attitude, humility or kind nature. For three years, Justin faced all cancer could throw at him - yet he never once complained, always smiled, and placed more and more importance on caring for his parents, Ed and Cathy, brother Jason, his many loving friends, and even complete strangers.
On July 10th, 2019, Justin passed peacefully with his family and best friends at his side. While the dates of his birth and his passing are far too close together, we remember that it is the “dash” that matters most. Justin’s dash is one of love. His dash reminds us to live fearlessly, to be there for others while no one is watching, and never forget to smile. Justin’s dash is a testament to what it means to be humble and kind. That little line, to us, is everything.
To the beloved friends and family of the Wegner’s, the #JWegStrong supporters, friends at Naperville Central High School and University of Wisconsin Whitewater, and to the entire Naperville Community, and all who have become a part of the #JWEGSTRONG Family along the way - we extend our sincere love and appreciation for being a part of Justin’s life and keeping his memory so near to your hearts. No words can do justice to what you all mean to us.