When Brian Levitas was diagnosed with cancer late last month, it felt to him and his closest friends like life had spun out of control. But as good friends do, they stepped up in a big way to control what they could.
With the Northbrook, Ill. man's diagnosis with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma nearly coinciding with the start of the "No-Shave November" movement, his fellow students at Indiana University vowed to put down their razors and raise awareness about men's health.
"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," one of Levitas' closest friends, Chad Silver, said Thursday on NBC's TODAY program.
Levitas has been out of school undergoing treatment and said the support he's gotten from friends on the IU campus, as well as from friends on campuses in Kansas, Texas, Illinois and elsewhere, has been helpful.
"I'm feeling incredible," he said. "They’ve literally put a smile on my face every single day that I wake up and make this 10 times easier for me. ... With all their love and support, I can’t even begin to tell you, I’m just speechless."
But the students' efforts haven't just been about raising awareness through the physical conversation-starters adorning their faces. They've also been raising money at a frenetic pace. A fundraising goal of $500 made shortly after Levitas' diagnosis was quickly surpassed.
"Two hours [after starting the fundraiser], we had raised $14,000," said Silver, who has known Levitas since grade school.
All of the money raised -- more than $57,000 so far -- is being donated to charity. A second fundraiser will raise money for the Chicago branch of Children's Oncology Services.