BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Enjoy the day.
It’s the slogan the Foster family uses, ever since their son Matthew was diagnosed with cancer back in 1996 when he was 15 years old.
It was December 21 when he learned he had cancer. After telling his five siblings and two half siblings, he told his mom and dad he’d tell the rest of the family after Christmas.
That’s the kind of kid he was. He said, ‘why would we want to ruin everybody’s Christmas?'” his father Burt said.
Matthew played basketball, football and soccer at Iroquois High School — a place he loved.
“He was the littlest guy on the team, but his coach — he played modified basketball — and after one game where the team got beat pretty badly and Matthew got in towards the end of the game, the coach said in the locker room, ‘if all you guys played with the same enthusiasm as Matthew Foster plays with, we could’ve won that game,” Burt said.
But once he was diagnosed, he was forced to sit out, and eventually learned from home. He just couldn’t risk picking up anything from school.
And that ‘enjoy the day’ slogan came from Matthew’s mentality while fighting. He kept his enthusiasm high and didn’t like when people complained about the little things in life. That came up one day at church, talking to a classmate.
He was talking to her for a few minutes, and he said to her, ‘you know what I really miss?’ and she said, ‘no, what’s that?’ and he said, ‘school. I miss school,'” Burt said. “At the wake she said, ‘, ‘I felt so bad because I was sitting in church thinking ‘awh tomorrow I have to go to school and I didn’t do my homework and I’m not ready and boy I hate school.'”
For 25 months, Matthew fought. On January, 29 1999 at the age of 17, he passed away.
“I love my wife dearly, but I developed a love with my son that I thought was impossible to have with another human being. It was just so close,” Burt said. “It changed me forever.”
After he passed nearly 25 years ago, his family decided to carry on his name with a non-profit to help other families struggling with childhood cancer. They called it, the Matthew Foster Foundation.
They work with social workers to help pay mortgage payments, utility bills, and more. They raise money with an annual golf event, a gala that’s turned into a meat raffle, and other donations. They also help with funeral expenses.
“Some parents just take so much time off, they lose their job. And they have these bills they need to pay. So what we decided to do is help them pay the bills,” Burt said.
Over the past 25 years the Matthew Foster Foundation has helped more than 725 families in Western New York to the tune of $1.6 million.
Matthew’s humbleness started with Burt and his mother Debbie.
“We don’t deal directly with the families,” Debbie said.
Because of that, they often don’t get to see firsthand the impact they’re making. Some will send letters. But about ten years ago, they attended a remembrance event for families who lost children with cancer.
“There had to be 25 families sitting around in the room,” Burt said.
Everyone introduced themselves and talked about their child who fought cancer. Debbie and Burt were last. No one knew their faces, but when they said their son’s name, something amazing happened.
“When it got to us,” Burt said. “We said our son was Matthew Foster, and going around, at least half of them started applauding because they knew who we were.”