To many, John Wayne was much more than an Academy Award-winning actor; he was the epitome of strength and manliness. As the star of some of the most notable Western moves of all time, he defeated bad guys left and right. But in his own life, John Wayne fought an invisible villain that's much harder to eliminate: cancer.
Fifteen years after undergoing surgery and beating lung cancer in 1964, John Wayne passed away from stomach cancer. But even during his time being ill, he put up a true fight — not only for himself, but for others, as well. After his passing, his family created the John Wayne Cancer Foundation to continue his fight. And for the next 25 days, the Wayne family and foundation hope the world will stand beside them in support of their new campaign, #ShowYourGrit.
The campaign, which kicks off on May 26, John Wayne's birthday, and runs through Father's Day on June 19, will donate a dollar toward supporting programs that improve cancer patients' outcomes — as well as benefit research, education, and awareness — for every picture that's posted on social media using the hashtag #ShowYourGrit.
The man behind the mission is John Wayne's son, Ethan Wayne, director of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, who wants the world to know exactly what the foundation is doing and why everyone's support is so important.
"John Wayne has done so much for the fight against cancer with the sentinel node biopsy technique. We've also trained 150 surgical fellows and have one of the largest deposits of melanoma tissue studied by people all over the world," Ethan Wayne says. "#ShowYourGrit is the start of us not only going nationally, but internationally, and telling people John Wayne's track record with cancer and create an environment where they can join him in the fight."
Ethan Wayne got 17 years with his dad before he passed away.
"He was 56 when I was born, and he knew he wasn't going to be around for me later," Ethan Wayne says, so the two spent as much time together as they could in that moment. A few years ago, Ethan Wayne found an old article from those days: "Someone asked why he keeps me out of school and why he took me everywhere with him. He said, 'Because boys go away when they're teenagers and they don't come back until they're in their 30s. I won't be there when he's in his 30s, so I'm going to love him now,'" Ethan Wayne says. "It was a really nice thing to read as an adult. I loved my dad — we had an adventurous life together."
While most boys were playing cowboys with friends, Ethan Wayne was living out a true Western on set.
"If he went to work, it was typically three or four months at a time on a Western location like Durango, Mexico, or somewhere in New Mexico or Arizona. In his downtime, he liked to be on his boat, which was a World War II converted minesweeper," he says. "As a kid, you don't think about any of this. As an adult, I look back and I crack up. He's just your dad — you don't know if you're rich. You just know you like being with you dad. It was fun for me to be with him; I loved the horses, the adventure. Just being with him in general."
After seeing his dad's true grit firsthand, Ethan Wayne wants to make sure that never-give-up energy continues to fuel the fight against cancer.
"We call it Show Your Grit because anyone who's dealing with cancer — whether they're the person affected by it, a family member or loved one, or a caretaker — it takes true grit for those individuals to go through that process. And it's not an easy process," Ethan Wayne says. "Anyone who's experienced it will appreciate that word 'grit.' Everyone embodies it, and John Wayne represents it very well. Sometimes when you're tired and you're not feeling well, it's the one little word that inspires you to make that extra effort to get through it."
To help raise money and awareness for the John Wayne Cancer Foundation and cancer research, take out your phone, snap a selfie either with or without cowboy attire, and post it on Twitter, Facebook, and/or Instagram using the hashtag #ShowYourGrit. Then challenge your friends to do the same!