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NOT ALL SUPERHEROES WEAR CAPES, DJ WORE A SMILE

By: Frieda Schweky



If you’d ever gotten the chance to meet David J. Cohen, a”h (known mainly as “DJ”), even briefly, you might feel comfortable enough to say you knew him. That was the greatness of DJ, whose warmth and ability to connect had such an effect on others. Whether conversing for 30 minutes with DJ or knowing him for 30+ years, you got a warm sense of friendship out of each passing interaction, that lingered with you forever. This is just one of the reasons why, when DJ Cohen passed away late this February at the age of 41, the community took a hit to the heart.

DJ Cohen was diagnosed February 27, 2015 at 3:00pm with stage four pancreatic cancer. This is regarded as one of the most severe types of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for people with stage four pancreatic cancer is approximately 1%. The first doctor DJ went to told him he had three months to live, and to get his affairs in order. The second doctor said pretty much the same thing. The third doctor said, “I can say whatever I want, but at the end of the day it’s all in the hands of Hashem.” That’s the one who DJ chose to be his doctor.

If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to hear DJ address a crowd, you know that after he was diagnosed, he would start every speech with the exact date and time he was diagnosed with cancer, February 27, 2015 at 3:00pm. The astounding thing is that exactly four years later, on the exact date and time, he passed away, February, 27th, 2019 within the same hour.

 

“DJ embedded in all of us his way of thinking,
the way to live life to
the fullest.”

DJ’s Phenomenal Support System

Having the most amazing family and friends, and meeting more throughout his journey, a strong support team was built around DJ. This team became his inner circle, and they refer to themselves as “Team Deej.” Team Deej did things for DJ such as individually taking turns escorting DJ and sitting with him through chemotherapy treatments, taking him to doctor appointments, running errands, going for walks with him, or just hanging out with him. The team also set out to spread DJ’s positive message of hope, and helped to uplift others. This team was galvanized by their involvement with such a tough ordeal, but this only made their friendship and bonds stronger.

“DJ embedded in all of us his way of thinking, the way to live life to the fullest,” said Terry Nigri, a friend of DJ’s and a dedicated member of Team Deej. “He would remind us that every day we should be thankful, present, and aware. It was more than just words to him, he would lead by example. This is how DJ treated each day he was gifted.”

DJ always referred to Alexis, his wife, as his “rock and core.” Although the ordeal was rough, to say the least, Alexis was always so pragmatic and never lost faith. To show his admiration and appreciation for his wife, DJ wrote and produced a song about Alexis, which he titled “Core.”

The Cohen's have three beautiful daughters: Linda, Lori, and Caroline. Alexis and DJ instilled in their children their positive and emunahdriven belief system. The girls would refer to their father’s cancer as the “Stinky Gift” because, although DJ was sick, it meant he was around more so hecould spend more time with them. Going through the real-world challenge of having a father with cancer at such a young age, and seeing how he faced it head on with a smile, gave them superhuman strength. So much so that when DJ passed, they were actually comforting others instead of the other way around.

 

DJ’s Support of Others

Some would call DJ an artist because he was a poet. Others would call him an artist because he would paint a smile on the faces of anyone and everyone he met. At first when DJ went to his scheduled chemotherapy sessions with a friend or family member, he would observe other patients who were going through the same treatment, but doing so alone. Seeing such sadness broke his heart.

“I have such a solid support team, and when I went through chemo and saw others going through it alone, I cried,” said DJ in an interview with Fox News 5. “I cried because it’s hard enough going through cancer. It's emotional, it’s physical, it’s spiritual, it’s very wearing on the body, and to see someone just sitting there alone getting chemicals pumped into their body, it hurt me,” recalled DJ, as tears began to well up in his eyes.

From then on, he resolved to make chemotherapy more fun for himself, the people he brought with him, and most importantly to DJ, to the other patients. He decided to dress up in a different loud and wacky costume each time he went for a chemo session. If he saw a fellow patient sitting alone, he would ask if he could sit beside them, in order to keep them company. At first, he would get strange looks for his outlandish costumes. Many patients thought he worked for the hospital, but when they found out that he was a patient like they were, they felt very comforted. It was empowering to see someone going through something so difficult with a smile on his face, a pure heart, and an upbeat personality.

A ketchup bottle, Superman, The Headless Horseman, a king, a Twister board, Spiderman, a whipped cream canister, Popeye, and a banana. These are just a few of the bright and fun characters DJ dressed up as for his chemotherapy appointments.

DJ lead by example, never wasting the little time he was given. He made the most out of every minute. DJ didn’t wallow in the things he could not change. He learned to turn his challenges into fuel, and he transformed something painful into something powerful. In doing so, he made others smile and reminded them how precious the gift of time is.

Below is a message from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to Cheri Srour, one of DJ’s closest friends and an honorary member of Team Deej. The letter was sent right after Team Deej visited the hospital in costumes in honor of DJ Cohen Week.

What a great blessing seeing everyone today in loving memory of our beloved brother and friend DJ. I know he is smiling with love and thumbs up for all the love everyone gave from the heart today in his loving memory. Thank you to everyone for doing what you did today to keep his memory and legacy alive. Gd bless you and everyone, Cheri, for being the wonderful and beautiful spirits you are. We need more people in this world like you and DJ’s friends. Keep it up and please don't ever stop. He wants us to keep spreading love, hope, and joy to everyone. You all put a smile on our hearts today and we thank you. Please extend my love and thanks to everyone who came out to visit today for me, this was so special and so appreciated. DJ will forever live on with the wonderful people like you and his family and friends. Keep his legacy alive. Blessings and love to you and your community.

– Staff Member
at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

DJ Memory Honored

In 2018, the National Cancer Association declared April 1st through April 7th DJ Cohen Week (April 7th was DJ's birthday). This is a seven-day period where everyone – patients, doctors, nurses, and visitors wear costumes to treatment visits! This year on April 2nd, during the second annual DJ Cohen Week, Team Deej along with supporting community members went to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center dressed up in costumes to cheer people up in the waiting room of the cancer center. They made a huge kiddushHashem and honored their dear friends’ legacy as well.

“DJ could always sense when I was in a mood and would call me out on it. He would bother me until I told him what was up and then he’d helped me hash it out. That was his way. He always wanted others to be happy and content in their lives. He was full of love and compassion,” said Ruth Salama, a friend and member of Team Deej. “Some of my best memories of hanging out with DJ were during his chemo appointments at Sloan. I know we all really looked forward to them. It almost felt like a hesedwe did for ourselves. Witnessing the effect he had on everyone around him was such a blessing. I consider myself very lucky to have been
his friend.”

Some would call DJ an artist because he was a poet. Others would call him an artist because he would paint a smile on the faces of anyone and everyone he met.

 

DJ’s Legacy

With such a magnetic personality, it was no wonder DJ had so many friends and family members that he was close with. They would cling to him, and he to them. Support is a key factor when fighting cancer, and DJ had a tremendous amount of support.

“Before I knew it, I had become your sidekick, teaching everyone how to dance in the rain instead of waiting for the storm to pass,” said Cheri Srour in the letter she wrote for DJ’s arayat. “In the physical sense, I lost my best friend, my mentor, partner in crime, my brother. I never knew my heart could hurt this much. But I will be okay. Not today, not next week, or probably even next month. I’ll get there when I get there. Until then, I will fake it till I make it. I will miss you every day, but take you with me everywhere I go. I will honorably accept the baton you’ve taught me to use so well. I will continue your legacy and shine through your spirit. I will continue what you no longer can. I will forever get stronger and make you proud. I look forward to sitting in the sun, singing songs, thanking Gd for everyday with you.”

To see some more pictures, read DJ’s poems, and to donate
to Team Deej so they can continue to spread his message, head
to teamdeej.com.