Battling Cancer At Age 21 Inspired This Entrepreneur To Give Back

Forbes 0 month ago

At age 21, when most of us were excitedly beginning our journeys into adulthood, Jake Teitelbaum was diagnosed with cancer. Feeling an unfamiliar sense of helplessness, he latched onto something unusual to retain his dignity: funky socks. During his recovery, he founded resilience gives, an apparel company that works with pediatric cancer patients to design cozy socks inspired by their experiences. For every pair purchased, one pair is donated to a child battling cancer or a family member.

Jake Teitelbaum headshot
Jake Teitelbaum is a cancer survivor and the founder of Resilience Gives.

This fall, resilience gives kicked off a national tour to donate thousands of socks and interview families impacted by pediatric cancer. They're running pop-up stores along the way to fuel their donations. Traveling the country in their sock-wrapped Airstream, Teitelbaum and resilience gives co-owner Lexi Corrion, also a young adult cancer survivor, are hoping to build awareness of the brand and the whole “socks with stories” movement. “We’ve spent a long time developing socks to bring the feeling of snuggling up in your favorite fuzzy socks at home to families during their hospital stays, and we’re excited to finally bring that into the world,” they say.  

Teitelbaum and Corrion pose in front of their Airstream.
Teitelbaum and Resilience Gives co-owner Lexi Corrion are on a nationwide Toe-to-Toe tour to give ... [+] socks away to cancer patients.

Teitelbaum himself was diagnosed with Refractory Hodgkin’s lymphoma just as his junior year at Wake Forest University was ending. Determined to graduate on time, he returned to school in the fall while continuing his cancer treatments. Yet he resisted telling most classmates about his diagnosis because he didn’t want to be pitied. “Being vulnerable as a 21-year-old college student didn't come easily,” he says. 

Then, just after midterms, Teitelbaum received a call from his doctor alerting him that the most recent PET scan showed the lymphoma clusters in his chest continuing to grow despite the chemotherapy. Treatment would have to be significantly dialed up in intensity and as a result, attending college was no longer possible.

Eventually, Teitelbaum received a stem cell transplant. “On day 19, I remember standing outside the shower, taping a dressing over my central venous catheter while the water warmed up. I found my eyes in the mirror and began to cry. I cried because the bathroom smelt like poop from the bloody diarrhea sitting a few feet away that I couldn’t flush until I had showed it to the nurse. I cried because I was struggling to support the weight of my body, even though it was 20 pounds lighter than the day I was admitted. I cried because I felt like my body was decomposing while I still lived in it. I cried because I was pitiful.”

He looked down at the bathroom floor. There, looking back at him, was his favorite pair of socks: an Aztec pattern with an image of a wolf howling in front of a rising sun. The slightest smile crept across Teitelbaum’s mouth. He had an idea. An idea that would become resilience gives

“I thought resilience was perseverance. I was wrong,” Teitelbaum says. “I learned that all of us have a breaking point. When we acknowledge this vulnerability, we find strength. Resilience is not about avoiding our pain, but rather embracing it and rebuilding yourself piece by piece.” It was then he turned to his friends and family for support. Gradually, he began to heal.

Emma Rae poses with Teitelbaum and Corrion.
Emma Rae is one of the childhood cancer survivors who has designed a pair of Resilience Gives socks. ... [+]

As a young entrepreneur, the greatest challenge Teitelbaum faces is uncertainty. It has taken a tremendous amount of work for him to grow the company and spread awareness of resilience gives to new communities. Nevertheless, he remains deeply committed to being a force for good. “Before we are patients, we are human beings,” he says. “My purpose is to bring dignity to patient communities. Resilience gives will never cure cancer, but we are empowering the families most personally affected by the disease to positively impact others standing in the same socks.. We’ve created a butterfly effect of patients supporting one another and I'm excited to see what comes of it!” 

Teitelbaum cautions young people looking to align their career with their life purpose to, “Follow your heart, but don’t ignore your brain. Working on something you truly believe in is a wonderful thing, but at the end of the day, bills have to be paid. As entrepreneurs, the odds are stacked against us. It’s best to establish some financial security before taking the leap of faith.” 

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