Jason Sochol, cofounder of The Vanity Project, tells us how his mother’s breast cancer diagnosis strengthened their relationship and drove his life in a more meaningful direction.
Today, Jason Sochol lives in New York and is one of the masterminds behind The Vanity Project, a brilliant new company that works with nonprofits to create unique apparel. (It’s also one of our dedicated corporate partners.)
But only a few years ago, he was living a radically different life, working at a real estate firm in Chicago.
What inspired the change? He says it all started the day his mom called to say she had breast cancer.
Jason remembers the moment with clarity … one second he was heading to a movie with friends, and the next, his entire world came to a standstill.
His mom’s voice trembled while she told him that the biopsy results had come back positive for breast cancer. It was in its early stage, but progressing, and she needed to start chemo within the week.
“I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know anything about breast cancer, so I didn’t know what questions to ask. I just felt this overwhelming fear and confusion,” he says. And since she was halfway across the country in Connecticut, he struggled with not being able to see her in person.
His two siblings were also living far away, but Jason credits his close friend, Omri, for standing with him through the emotional ups and downs.
“Omri was really like a brother to me during that time. He had spent a lot of time with my family, so he was as scared as I was.”
While Jason struggled to always put up a strong, positive front for his parents, he says it was helpful to have a friend he could confide in openly about his concerns.
Caring from afar
Jason worked to bridge the distance with frequent flights home and phone calls to his mom nearly every other day.
“I think those calls were as important to me as they were to her, just to hear her voice,” he recalls. “We spoke more during that period than we ever had before, and it made our relationship that much stronger.”
Eventually, though, visits and phone calls weren’t enough. “I couldn’t just sit there in Chicago while my parents were dealing with everything. I felt like I had to do more.”
Billboards for good
He soon began volunteering with local breast cancer organizations. The work connected him to more information about the disease, as well as other people he could relate to. It also left him with one thing that wasn’t so desirable: a closet full of oversized, generic event t-shirts that would never be worn again.
“Omri and I were both doing a lot of volunteer work at the time, and we kept getting all these crappy t-shirts,” he laughs. It occurred to them that they could make their mark by helping organizations build awareness through apparel that supporters would actually want to wear.
“Gradually, we fell into the role of managing the merchandise for these nonprofits. It wasn’t something we ever saw ourselves doing, but it made us feel needed. We felt relevant, and it helped take our minds off of the difficult reality.”
It wasn’t long before they spun that part-time distraction into a meaningful full-time business turning clothes into “billboards for good.” In January of 2012, Jason and Omri both left their jobs and moved to New York to start The Vanity Project.
Fast forward to today, and Jason’s mom is doing great.
“It’s kind of all come full circle,” Jason says. “She inspired this whole thing, and now she plays a key role in its day-to-day operation.”
Besides inspiring him to make a drastic life change, Jason says his mother’s cancer impacted him in more personal ways as well.
“It was the first time I’d ever been exposed to such a grave situation. Coming face-to-face with the potential that she could be taken from us … that brought a lot of clarity to my life. It was maturing. I know now what’s important, and what’s not. I don’t have time for certain types of drama.”
What advice would he give a peer about handling a parent’s cancer diagnosis?
“Hang in there. It’s all about staying positive and strong. All through life, you get to lean on your parents in tough times, but something like a cancer diagnosis causes roles to be reversed. You have to be the one who stays positive and strong for them.”
Partnering with Edith Sanford
In 2013, The Vanity Project teamed up with Edith Sanford to help build support and awareness around the Foundation’s genomic breast cancer research. They also played a vital role in the launch of TeamEdith, by helping design its apparel.
“We were first drawn to the amount of money that’s going directly to research,” said Jason. “The fight against breast cancer is obviously a very personal cause to both Omri and myself. We wanted to support an organization that was trying to do something different in a very crowded field.
“We also felt there was an authenticity and genuine passion and energy within the organization and its team. We want to see Edith Sanford grow and be effective.”
Give your voice to inspire hope and strength in others.
See other stories.