Zach Sobiech, at the age of 14, found out he had a rare form of terminal cancer. So he became a rock star, and millions of people got to see his music before he passed away on May 20, 2013.
When we originally shared his story last year, 17 million of you watched this, and his song "Clouds" became the first independent hit to reach #1 on the iTunes music charts.
While there is lots of funding for research on the more prevalent cancers of the world, there's never enough funding to accomplish the research needed to cure rare cancers like the one Zach had. You helped raise over $750,000 for research into a very rare cancer. Which made me very happy.
This is his beautiful story.
UPDATE (5/8/2014): The folks at SoulPancake did a follow-up documentary short on his family in the year since Zach's passing, which you can watch here:
You never know what to expect until you lose someone dear to your heart this way. I lost my dad to pancreatic cancer far too early. If you wouldn't mind sharing this so more people hear Zach's story, I'd love it. His family has requested that anyone who is interested in helping change the fate for future children like Zach donate to the research fund set up on his behalf. His form of cancer rarely gets enough research funding because it's so rare, so donations like yours are really important.
You can also buy his album on iTunes, with the proceeds going to the research fund.
Zach Sobiech: One Year Later
[Katy Perry's "Firework"]
Newscaster: Zach Sobeich's soul is filled with lyrics racing against time.
Zach Sobiech with clouds. Very incredible story.
Zach Sobiech was diagnosed with a deadly form of bone cancer.
Katie Couric: After a four year battle marked by courage and grace, Zach Sobiech died on May 20th.
News: His song "Clouds" reached number one on iTunes. The song has raised more than five hundred thousand dollars.
We will all remember Zach as the young man from Stillwater, Minnesota who lost his battle with osteosarcoma, which is a rare and malignant form of bone cancer. Rock the Cause has the honor of working with Laura Sobiech, Zach's mom. One of the things you told me when you realized that you were going to lose Zach, you had to put your hope into everything that came after. Can you talk to us about that?
Laura Sobiech: For me, in the cancer world we hear the word hope, so there's hope for a cure, hope for more time, all those different forms of hope and so I had to figure out, okay now what do I hope for. Because all those other things were taken off the table.
Laura: He died on a Monday and it was a Saturday and sort of had his foot in eternity's door. And so when you would watch him, he was laying on the couch and he would reach out his hand. He would act like he was throwing a baseball or football or turning the knobs on his amp. At one point looked over and he was playing the guitar. But there was one time where he was, like he was wanting to grab somebody's hand so I walked over and I grabbed his hand. And it was so warm and rough from the medication he was taking and his fingers were calloused from the guitar and he grabbed my hand really tight. I just held it to my cheek and then he opened his eyes and I said, you don't have to stay here. You can go, and he said "Okay."
Rob: He died in the morning, it was like six-forty. You don't realize the emotion involved in death until you experience it. Letting go was what it is. You're letting go of the connection with that person, at least on this earth. It's tough, you know, we're a very stoic family from an emotion standpoint. Things happen in this world that aren't always positive. And getting your mind around is it far or isn't it fair, and in the end it took me forty-nine years to figure out that, you know what, it just happens guys.
Sam: The hardest part I think, I was talking to my mom about this. The hardest part about him being gone are the moments that I forget that he's gone. Those are the worst.
Laura: That's something that I catch myself doing too. Because you get so focused on, okay the next thing that I have to do, the next thing I have to do, and then that's when I get caught off guard and it slams me really hard that he's gone. I was getting together some stuff from his bedroom, like oh I need to find that t-shirt, so I went down and I was sorting through his stuff and it just breaks everything in me.
Sammy: It was just such a weird feeling like that his empty room was, like I felt like more like I was hanging out with Zach in his room and he wasn't there at all.
Laura: It's still such a sanctuary for us to go and just be with him. I find more of him there that God is great.
Amy: There was one night, it was Sammy, Zach and I and it was actually in January when he found out his cancer had grown we stayed up really late and all just kind of got really emotional and started crying and Zach went in another room and Sammy and I were talking and we're like, we're really going to need each other.
Amy: Sammy and I have a crazy connection where we can be together and talk about absolutely anything and I know that she'll always have my back. She's like my sister!
Sammy: She's probably the one who gets it the most out of all of my friends. Because yes she was Zach's girlfriend, but she was also his best friend. We're his best friends so we get it.
Sam: Our family dynamic I would describe as kind of like, it was like a duality kind of. Me and Alli are really close, when Grace was born, Zach formed a deep bond with Grace. They had some kind of weird like almost magical way of interacting with each other that I didn't quite understand.
Amy: We both worry about Grace so much because we had to go to college and kind of be away from it.
Sammy: A huge distraction and then Grace is like going to this new school where Zach went and I just remember hearing that she was bummed not being able to like tell Zach about her teachers that he had too or how classes went.
Grace: Well, he was basically my other half and it really sucks to have that other half ripped off of you. That's all. He was just my other half.
Alli: What's weird is nothing prepares you for losing your little brother. Like the hardest part was right before he died and then after he died it just go so much easier because I felt like I knew him in a way I have never known him before. Like I knew his spirit. He like creeps into my life on a daily basis, like just the way he works. One example is I had to move to Virginia, I got married eleven days after he died, so that was crazy and turbulent, and I didn't really have time to process it, so I moved to Virginia and I was sad and I would miss my family and I was depressed about the whole thing so we decided to get a dog, a little wiener dog because Zach always wanted a pack of wiener dogs. We got him, brought him home, and I looked at the certificate and Butters', our dog's birthday is the same birthday as Zach's. So it was kind of just really bizarre coincidence.
Amy: This is me and a couple of Zach's closest friends. We decided to take a road trip, and we took a picture out by a lighthouse and I posted it on Instagram and it was a cute group picture and then I looked on the comments and someone said is that a "Z" in the clouds?
Sammy: And she goes "Oh my god!"
Amy: Because I was just on my phone, and we're walking down the streets of Duluth, like no way! And then I look at the picture closely and there it was, but we never saw the cloud! We just saw it in the picture.
Laura: I've only had one dream, we had his funeral three days later and it was the night of their Spring concert. So I went to it after the funeral and the dream that I had a couple days later was of, I was walking to the front of that same auditorium and I turned back from the front to look at the auditorium, I was looking for Zach, and he was behind somebody and he just tipped his head like this so that I could see him, just so I could see him, then he went back.
[Sammy singing "Clouds"]
Amy: Well, after he died there was just a crazy blow-up of people that heard his story. Then his song spiked to number one on iTunes.
Sammy: And I think it got to number one the day of his funeral, so it was a crazy mix of feelings.
Sammy: Nobody knew how they were going to be after he died, I don't think anybody thought that they would be totally, completely changed, we just didn't know how it was going to be. And now like a year later it's not like I'm surprised about how we're doing I guess because I had no expectations. I knew he was going to die, that was certain and everything after was just a mystery. And now I'm here and I'm okay and I'm sad a lot about it, but I'm okay.
Amy: One time we just talked about what it would be like when he finally died and he just said "you're going to be okay and eventually you're going to move on, but you have to promise that you're never going to settle for anyone." And he said to find someone better than him, which I don't think is possible. But I told him that I promised to do that. I feel so lucky, I wouldn't trade anything and as hard as it was, I'm so glad that I got to know him and be with him and be a part of this. Because it's so much bigger than any of us. He was the best guy I've ever known and probably ever will know.
Laura: There were times throughout our experience that I just knew I need to write about this. And so I did keep a journal, especially at the end. I wasn't sure it would be a book, that was intimidating though, I didn't think I could write a book. But I also knew I would lose those memories if I didn't write them down.
Sam: I think she knew that what had transpired over the last few years of Zach's life would make a huge difference to a lot of people and touch a lot of hearts. And I've never seen anyone quite so driven to do something.
Laura: I was really grateful that I had a project like that to jump in to because to me it would have felt almost like a betrayal to go back to life the way it was, you know, and just like picking up and going on.
Rob: I read it from cover to cover in one day. I had never read any of the copy of it before and I cried, I mean, I cried.
Laura: It's not a story about a kid who dies, it's a story about a kid who lives and brings hope to the world just like with his song and with the video, I mean it was a big story, but there were a lot of little things that happened too and that's the story I want to bring to people.
Radio Host: That's one of the amazing things about when I first met you and Zach, and I walked up and I said hey Zach I'm with a lablel, we just got you on iTunes, you're on sale in 146 countries, and his face lit up and he said well that's really cool man." But he still wasn't grasping it. What I saw a month later when we went to the Varsity Theater for the big concert for Zach, which you talk about in the book, it's a great section of the book where Zach wanted to get out and play some live shows and twelve hundred people showed up, but seeing Zach evolve into this musician, who knew that his time was short, but he became this rockstar who knew that he had a platform that he could change the world with through his music, that was a cool evolution to see.
Sam: I think above all, above all this stuff that's happened before like you know he was a hero to a lot of people, even before any of that, the very first thing he was to me was that he was my brother, and he was human being, he was the best friend that I ever had, on a human level.
Grace: He always makes his way in, makes it a little better. I guess he's trying to keep it like it used to be. He didn't have to do something, he would just try to do a thing to make me happy. He just needed to be there and I guess I haven't really realized it until now, but he's making his way in, just sitting there quietly, waiting for me to notice him.
Laura: Thank you guys for coming out tonight. So not long ago Zach was a very average kid living a very average, normal, teenage life. I remember one afternoon I found him lying on our living room couch and when I walked in the room I could tell there was something wrong. So I sat down and I asked, "Zach, what's wrong?" And that's when he started to cry. He wanted to do be doing what a normal junior in high school would be doing, but instead he was dealing with his pain and trying to figure out how to do this thing, how to live while dying.
Rob: It's not about what job you're going to get when you get older, it's not about how much money you're going to make when you get older, when you get to be seventy-five or eighty years old, if you're fortunate enough to live that long, Zach wasn't, but if you guys are, you're going to look back and say what good did I do for others.
Rob: There's this world where people go to work, they make money, they buy a car, they might buy a boat, they have kids. But there's the other fifty percent that involves in my mind, spirituality, connecting with people, and making a difference int he world.
Alli: When it comes down to it, it's the relationships you have with other people that is the most important thing, how you treat other people and how you love them.
Laura: With everything that happened around Zach with the videos and the response to the song and all of the outpouring of people around the world, I think I have a better understanding of humanity. Because what I see is that we all hunger for the same thing, we are all desperate for hope and for love. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't give up a moment. I am a blessed woman, I truly am to have had that child in my life. He was a great kid.