ELMHURST – Matt Haller grew up in Elmhurst and graduated from York Community High School, and now, the Elmhurst community is gathering around him in the fight for his life.
He's 44. A hockey player who has been playing three times a week against people in their 20s. An account executive at WCIU with a toddler son.
And he has potentially incurable stage 4 stomach cancer.
In response, some friends of his have organized a concert, F-Cancer Jam for Matt Haller, at 7 p.m. Feb. 17 at Fitz's Spare Keys, 119 N. York St., Elmhurst.
Diagnosed with cancer in November 2017, Haller said his goal right now is to stay alive as long as possible and hope for scientific research to come through and provide a cure.
"To say it's something you never want to hear is an understatement," said Haller, who now lives in Willowbrook.
He said hearing the diagnosis put him "squarely in a world of unknown unknowns," calling to mind a Donald Rumsfeld quote.
Haller said receiving the diagnosis, going through treatment, trying to find clinical trials and being prepared for what may or may not happen has been "world-crushing."
"You want to try to have a positive, upbeat attitude, but you've got a lot of physical problems that kind of draw you back under the water," he said.
Haller said he's still working and focusing on making money for his wife, Colleen, and their son, Cullen, in case he's not around much longer. He said he has the easier part of the situation compared to what it could be like for his wife and son if he dies.
York alumnus and city of Elmhurst water division employee Carson Pukael, who grew up with Haller, found out his friend had cancer via a Facebook post Haller made.
Pukael said the first thing he thought of was to have a concert fundraiser to help Haller's family with his medical expenses.
Pukael plays guitar in the band Common Area Maintenance with fellow York graduates Bill Wright and Tyler Wheatland. Three people who work with Wright also are in the band, Pukael said.
Pukael reached out to Fitz's Spare Keys owner Brendan Fitzharris, who also knows Haller. He said Fitzharris agreed "without even skipping a beat."
Then Pukael reached out to Haller to let him know the plans and see if he was on board.
"He was flabbergasted," Pukael said.
Haller said the event will be like a "giant class reunion" among York friends, family and people who care about him.
Fitz's Spare Keys will donate 20 percent of food sales all day Feb. 17, and all proceeds from ticket sales will go to the Haller family.
Fitzharris said the venue is expecting about 700 people to come out to the event to support Haller, whom he has known since about fifth grade.
"It's going to be a good night, and it's going to be a pretty good turnout from what it sounds like, and hopefully we raise a boatload of money for him," Pukael said.
If you go
WHAT: F-Cancer Jam for Matt Haller
WHEN: 7 p.m. Feb. 17
WHERE: Fitz's Spare Keys, 119 N. York St., Elmhurst
COST: $20 (only cash and check at the door)
How to help
Visit the Haller family's GoFundMe page at shawurl.com/386c.