Photography: Courtesy John Wayne Cancer Foundation

Grab a bandanna, snap a selfie, and join the John Wayne Cancer Foundation’s Show Your Grit campaign to fund vital cancer-fighting research and training.

Ethan Wayne is well-aware that everyone knows his famous father from his movies. What he isn’t so sure about is whether people realize just how much his dad’s foundation is doing to fight cancer.

The John Wayne Cancer Foundation was created with the mission to fight cancer with courage, strength, and grit. In 1981, the foundation co-founded the John Wayne Cancer Institute, located in Santa Monica, California.

“The institute is responsible for a lot of advancement in cancer technology, research, and training. If anyone has breast cancer or melanoma, the standard of care was developed at John Wayne,” says Ethan, who is chairman of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. “The institute has trained 160 of the best surgical oncologists in the world, who are saving thousands of lives. Part of our mission at the John Wayne Cancer Foundation is to support the great work being done and get the word out.”

It’s the legacy Wayne himself wanted.

“His dying wish was that we use his name to help people with cancer,” says daughter Marisa Wayne. “Here we are almost 40 years later, having done a great deal and increasing those efforts all the time.”

Photography: Courtesy John Wayne Cancer Foundation

One of the ways they’re publicizing those efforts and moving the fight forward is the Show Your Grit social media campaign. For every Western-themed selfie that the public snaps, there are corporate-sponsored dollars to match. “The number one reason we’re doing this is to get people the information that John Wayne is here and is accomplishing things that serve anyone dealing with cancer,” Ethan says.

The campaign kicks off on June 1 right after Wayne’s birthday on May 26, and runs through June 30, encompassing both the anniversary of Wayne’s death on June 11 and Father’s Day on June 18.

The timing’s no coincidence. “We thought that time period was open and John Wayne could own it. There’s a real value and character set that he’s revered for, and those qualities are passed down in families, so Father’s Day makes sense,” Ethan says.

“It really is an ideal time frame,” Marisa agrees. “There are many events honoring him around that time of year. There’s John Wayne Day in Newport Beach. In Texas, he’s an honorary Texan, and his birthday is designated John Wayne Day. There’s John Wayne Day in Iowa. It’s cool to have the campaign run around Father’s Day because he was a dad as well as an iconic American.”

Photography: Courtesy John Wayne Enterprises

What kind of dad was John Wayne? “He was very loving, really fun,” Marisa says. “I was 13 when he died, so I didn’t have to go through teenage years with him, when he might have been a little more strict. He was very attentive. He was 60 when I born, so I got to spend a lot of time with him because he wasn’t working as much. While he was a good dad, supportive and loving, he was also strict. We knew we had to behave a certain way. He wouldn’t put up with any disrespect. He was a good hands-on role model and day to day.”

As for family time together, Marisa recalls being on the boat all the time, celebrating holidays and weekends in Catalina. “He was happy having his friends and family with him on the water just spending time together.”

Ethan also remembers special times spent with his dad. “By the time I came along, he was older, and further along in his career, out of Los Angeles and down at the beach. During that time he was making just two films a year, spending six months filming. The rest of the time he’d be at the ranch or on the boat.

“When he was working, he was really good about taking Marisa and me on location, so he just kept us with him on those experiences. I loved that lifestyle, being on location, around horses, wranglers, my dad. I had stuff do to around the set. We’d read the script and practice lines together. He was disciplined on movie sets, but being around all those great guys and horses was terrific. I loved it. The boat, the ranch, the movie locations — it was really an adventurous life.”

Ethan says his dad always showed grit, but never more so than during his battle with the cancer that ultimately took his life.

We think it would make their dad proud to see the grit that goes into the hard groundbreaking work of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation.

Ethan’s especially enthused about the institute’s program for surgical oncology fellows.

“There were so many who graduated over the last 25 or 30 years out there with no network. Now there’s an intranet for them so we can link all these significant cancer fighters together and really create support. Our hope is to fund the research of every John Wayne Fellow that graduates — fresh, bright minds being funded to pursue their unique and novel ideas in both technology and medicine. The plan is to gift a few hundred thousand to each when they graduate.”

Ethan reports that six John Wayne Fellows had papers accepted at the World Cancer Congress in Paris last year. “We sent them to share their papers and discoveries. These are all pieces of the puzzle. When they meet and collaborate with this support, it drives progress forward.”

To add your piece of the puzzle: Participate in Show Your Grit by posting cowboy-inspired selfies to social media using the hashtag #ShowYourGrit — and tell a friend. Donate to the cancer-fighting cause and find out more about the John Wayne Cancer Foundation at

Click here to read Cowboys & Indians' January cover story commemorating the Duke's milestone birthday year, "John Wayne at 110."