The Driven to Cure Fundraiser

andrew lee and his custom nissan gtr

Most nineteen-year-olds are just getting started with their lives, making plans for the future, and living in the moment. But Andrew Lee’s nineteenth year brought him a diagnosis of Hereditary Leiomyomatosis and Renal Cell Cancer (HLRCC), a condition so rare it has only been identified in 300 families in the world. It has no known cure.

“It took the wind out of our sails,” says Andrew’s father, Bruce H. Lee. “It was devastating news to learn that it was stage four incurable cancer and that he was diagnosed with a six-month to a year window to live.” He goes on, “Everything that you planned for, everything you’re hoping for just goes out the window, and you suddenly become an advocate for getting him the best care and help. Andrew was amazing, though, because he only for maybe 20 minutes asked ‘why me’ and then all of a sudden he looked at me and said ‘Dad, let’s beat this.’.”

After taking the time to process the diagnosis, Bruce asked Andrew what his life goals were. Andrew joked that he needed to own a Nissan GTR, the $100,000 flashy sports car he had always dreamed of owning. Instead of taking it as a joke, Andrew’s parents bought one for him.

“Within days of driving the car off the lot, I found myself attending local car shows,” Andrew wrote for his nonprofit Driven to Cure’s website. “My story began spreading, and within a month, people started to recognize me and why I had this incredible vehicle…. It was then I realized that the vehicle of my dreams was also the vehicle which gave me the opportunity to make a difference; to do something bigger than myself.”

He saw that he could use his car to help raise money and awareness about HLRCC, so he recruited his father, Bruce, to help start a nonprofit foundation. Bruce says Andrew told him, “I want to start a nonprofit and raise awareness about this rare cancer. I’ll take my car and we’ll use it as a show car. I want to call it Driven to Cure.”

Bruce helped Andrew get special permission to take an advanced entrepreneurial course at his university where Andrew partnered with a professor to make the business plan while Bruce secured the trademark, put together a board of directors and filed for 501 c3 status. They also worked on tricking out the car.

They set out to obtain support from automobile companies and auto enthusiasts and managed to catch the attention of Nissan and BASF who jumped in to amplify the message. Nissan made a replica model of Andrew’s car, and BASF donated money to the cause and helped paint the Nissan a custom orange, the color of kidney cancer awareness. By the time the school year ended, the car was ready to go and so was the organization.

“We hit the circuit,” Bruce says. “We did a variety of different car shows. We bought a trailer and got it wrapped and started driving to events.” BASF sponsored their trip to SEMA, a major car show in Las Vega. “From there it went international,” Bruce says.

It was about this time that they found Custom Ink and became familiar with the fundraising platform. They discovered that they could raise both money and awareness by selling custom gear with their logo and message. These fundraisers became a key part of their company’s strategy.

The funds they raised went toward kidney cancer research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Andrew didn’t just work to raise money for research at NIH, he also personally joined seven research trials, flying home from college every couple of weeks to undergo experimental treatments. These trials have been credited with helping to prolong his life three years past his one-year prognosis and his participation provided crucial data for future research. He also gave a lot of his time to help other young people grappling with similar diagnoses.

“My GTR has proven to be the closest thing I have to a cure for my cancer,” Andrew wrote for his website. “Driving the GTR has become a tremendous outlet for me. The places I have gone, the people I have met, and the passions I have developed just because of this gift have become the best medicine available.”

Andrew passed away in April 2019, at the age of 23, but his work and legacy live on. When his father put out the announcement, they received donations from 160 countries.

The impact their efforts have made on the car industry has also been significant. The 2019 Paul Walker Memorial Ride, a recent memorial for actor Paul Walker who was made famous for his appearance in the Fast and Furious movie franchise, included a moment of silence for Andrew, and the major car auction event Carlisle Import and Performance Nationals has changed its name to now be called Carlisle Import and Performance Nationals Benefitting Driven to Cure.

Most importantly, the word is getting out there. Bruce says they’ve received notice of other possible cases of HLRCC being investigated because of their campaigns. “What’s profound about all this is that Andrew really wanted to raise awareness because if you catch it early you can work with it. You can’t cure it, but you can have an opportunity to live.”

Driven to Cure is currently running a fundraiser to help continue Andrew’s mission to raise awareness and find a cure for HLRCC. Show your support today by buying a shirt and sharing the message.

Miellyn is the Director of Marketing Content at Custom Ink. Her work has spanned marketing for television networks like TLC and Travel, educational content for Smithsonian and National Geographic, marketing and story for indie video games, essays for publishers including Random House, The Telegraph, and Smart Pop Books, and stories for press outlets like VICE and VH1.

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