District 7150 YE students join the fight against cancer


By: Michel DeBottis, Oneida Rotary


Andreas Vogelsberger was diagnosed with a very rare form of Cancer at 15 years old. An optimistic prognosis after an operation to remove a tumor from his throat allowed this young Austrian to fulfill his dream of becoming a Youth Exchange Student in America. In 2010-11, Andi was hosted by the Oneida Rotary Club and three exceptional host families. A kind and gracious young man with a good sense of humor, a gifted athlete, and talented musician, Andi was loved by all who knew him. I was Andi’s Club Counselor during his Exchange Year.

After an oncologist determined Andi’s cancerous tumors had returned, Andi was returned to Austria for treatment, with the promise that he would come back, if his parents and doctors allowed him to return. Andi’s very rare form of Cancer resisted all treatments. Andi wanted to return to his beloved host community. Andi’s parents decided that allowing him to enjoy his life to the fullest was the most they could do for their son, and bravely permitted him to enjoy the last few months of his Exchange Year in Oneida.

Andi was given a Make-A-Wish gift of his choice. He chose to selflessly use his gift to make a professional video recording of his song. “The Angel” as a source of encouragement to cancer patients and their caregivers. “The Angel” has had thousands of views on You Tube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNeX8CqO_qI

I remained Andi’s counselor and friend for the rest of his life. He was like a son to me, and became part of my family. I was so happy when he started calling me “Dad.” He needed someone to talk to about the tough subjects that he did not want to burden his host families with. Our conversations continued until Andi lost his battle with Cancer on March 7, 2013.

During the Oneida Youth Exchange Weekend in January 2017, Exchange Students Hanna Wesche, Saga Pirskanen, and Elisa Riaud became familiar with Andi’s story, and asked the other District 7150 YE Students to join together in a service project, as the 2017 edition of Andi’s Army. The Exchange Students agreed, and raised money from their host clubs and communities in support of the Relay for Life. Many Rotary Clubs in District 7150 responded generously!

The Relay for Life of Madison County was held at the Oneida High School on May 20, 2017. Twelve of our District’s seventeen Youth Exchange Students gathered at my home an hour before the start of the Relay. I told them about Andi’s life as a YE Student and his brave battle with cancer over the last two years of his life. I played his music video, “The Angel”. Most of the Exchange Students did not make it through that without a few tears, and those who did were pretty somber. Cancer hit home when the Exchange Students envisioned this disease through the tragically sad experience of one of their peers.

Our Exchange Students were very respectful of Relay and its mission. Most of them told me that they are fortunate to have little exposure to Cancer. After the Survivor Lap several commented that they never realized how many people have Cancer and/or how many have survived their battle. They maintained a respectful quiet during the Caregiver Lap that followed. At the start of Relay, each of them received a lap necklace. As they gathered one bead per quarter mile lap, their commitment to Relay seemed to grow. They walked and ran a lot of laps – showing support any way they could. I was so impressed that most of the lap necklaces showed 6-8 miles, and that some of our Exchange Students logged 10 and 11 miles! They were joyful, and happy to be part of something so meaningful. This was Youth Exchange enthusiasm in its purest form.

During a bonfire at my home at the end of the evening, our Exchange Students shared their thoughts and feelings about their Relay experience. I sensed a commitment in each of them to bring Cancer awareness and fund raising missions back to their home countries.
Our Belgian Exchange Student, Vincent Silvestri, captured all of this, and so much more, with his drone-video camera. The music of “The Angel” accompanies the video. Vincent posted the video on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/vincent.silvestri.5/posts/1479762972074073

It’s worth the time to watch it, all the way to the end.


Editor’s note: You can also view the videos by Andreas and Vincent by going to the Resources page of this website.

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