LONDONDERRY — A local chef who saw his melanoma diagnosis as an opportunity to educate others about their risks of the disease lost his own battle earlier this week.
Brian Winer, a 2004 graduate of Londonderry High School, died at Massachusetts General Hospital on Wednesday morning. He was 28.
Winer, the former executive chef at Crave Brasserie and Wine Bar in Amesbury, Mass., was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic melanoma of the brain and lungs in June 2012.
A self-taught chef who dreamed of working in a restaurant since he was a child, Winer previously said he shared his love of all things culinary with his late father.When Winer was 22, he underwent surgery to remove a small melanoma spot on his neck and remained healthy for several years after.
Despite diligent skin checks, Winer’s skin cancer still managed to spread.One spring day in 2012, Winer was working in the kitchen when he suddenly collapsed. He was rushed to the Boston hospital, where doctors removed several tumors from his brain.
Following the surgery, Winer’s health fluctuated as his family and friends rallied around the dark-haired young man known for his mischievous sense of humor and fondness for the Boston Bruins.
His older sister, Jessica Leavitt, began reaching out to the surrounding community, setting up a website and Facebook page, Cook Up A Cure 4 Brian, to share Winer’s story while raising funds to assist with her brother’s increasing medical bills. Winer, who didn’t have health insurance, lived with family members during his illness.
Community events, like a fundraising 5K held last September, drew dozens upon dozens of his friends, old and new. Last spring, Winer was walking with a cane but still chatting excitedly about the new restaurant menu he was planning.
He said he enjoyed preparing batches of gourmet soup and other goodies for his friends and neighbors on the days he was feeling up to it.
“I’m always thinking ahead,” he said with a wink.
Winer underwent his most recent surgery in mid-February. A Facebook photograph dated Feb. 13 shows him reclined in a hospital bed at Mass General Hospital giving a “thumbs up” sign, his head heavily bandaged.
Those closest to Winer said they’d remember him for his positive attitude and his bravery in facing his illness head on.
“Brian’s life was made special by all those who chose to share it with,” Leavitt said.
Nancy Plante, who worked next door to Crave when Winer was a chef there, remembered Winer “preparing the most wonderful lunches that he’d deliver himself.”
“We developed a wonderful relationship, and I will cherish him in my heart forever,” Plante said.
Debbie Curtin, a local artist who previously donated some of her paintings during fundraisers for Winer, called him “a most positive and awesome human being.”
“He made us fight the fight with him,” Curtin said. “I’m gonna miss the fire and spunk.”
Calling hours for Winer will take place Saturday, March 29, from 10 a.m. to noon at Peabody Funeral Home in Londonderry. A memorial ceremony will immediately follow.