Heart of the Hutch: Our supporters edition
We have been profiling people who illustrate the culture and spirit of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center with the Heart of the Hutch series. This edition focuses on our supporters.
Rebecca Hastings dreamed up hugabox, her online care package company, to lure her daughter back to Seattle. It was 2014, and Hastings’ daughter, Kelsey Golitz, was living in Boston where she had landed a job straight out of college with a giant e-commerce company. Golitz loved her work and was great at it, quickly rising from buyer to assistant manager.
The young woman was also living with cancer. She had been diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, an aggressive cancer that starts in soft tissue and bone, just a few months after moving to Boston. She powered through chemotherapy and other treatments while continuing to work and spend time with friends. By April of that year, however, she had run out of treatment options, her health was failing, and she was on medical leave from work.
On a family conference call, the doctor asked Hastings and her husband, Dr. Michael Golitz, a heartbreaking question: “Where do you want your daughter to take her last breath?”
“Despite what her doctor said, we were all in denial, and Kelsey was ready to renew her lease with her roommate,” recalled Hastings. “I said, ‘Let’s put your stuff in storage in Boston and go back to Seattle until you get better.’”
She reasoned that building a business together — one that played to her daughter’s passion and expertise — would give her a reason to move home, as well as something to do when she got there.
“Kelsey had a brilliant mind for e-commerce and so many fun ideas,” said Hastings. “Once, during surgery, she told the anesthesiologist about an online sock club she wanted to start, and she made her promise not to steal the idea.”
By summer, Golitz had agreed to move home, and she and her mom arrived in Seattle on Aug. 2, 2014.
Just one week later, she died at the age of 26.
Hastings channeled her grief into her new online business, which helps people everywhere spread joy by sending care packages — stuffed with everything from brownies to frisbees to water bottles to cozy socks — to college students and other loved ones.
The bottom line for hugabox is to fuel research into sarcoma, the disease that took Golitz's life. Hastings donates 90% of profits — about $50,000 to date — to six research centers that are working on better treatments for sarcomas, including Fred Hutch.
“We’re using the same chemotherapies to treat sarcomas today as we were in the 1970s,” Hastings said. What’s more, just 4% of federal funding for cancer research is targeted for cancers that are most prevalent in children and young adults, including sarcomas. “These cancers are considered rare, but every year 80,000 young people are diagnosed with them — that’s the equivalent of a full football stadium and a devastating loss of potential.”
Hastings has joined a network of families working together to increase funding for cancers that affect children and young adults, and hugabox is a sponsor of CureFest, an annual childhood cancer advocacy event in Washington, D.C.
“There are many others like me out there,” she said, “and we are working together to change the funding landscape and make childhood cancer a national priority.”
— By Rachel Hart
July is Sarcoma Awareness Month. By making a gift in Kelsey Hastings Golitz’s memory, you will help fuel sarcoma research at Fred Hutch. Hutch researchers are working to understand how sarcomas develop, how they evade the body’s defenses and how to trigger the immune system to fight them.
“I block my calendar every August for this event,” says Fred Hutch Obliteride participant Shannon O’Fallon. “It’s just really, really important to me.”
Today, O’Fallon works as the program manager for Amazon’s Obliteride team program. But in 2017, when she first heard about Fred Hutch’s annual community fundraiser for cancer research, she was in a different place.
“I was about two to three months into chemotherapy for breast cancer at the time,” says O’Fallon. “I was really excited to see that [Amazon] was creating a team and investing in the cause.” Because of her treatment, she wasn’t able to participate in that year’s Obliteride ride, walk, or run, but her passion landed her a spot as a top fundraiser and volunteer, both that year and the next.
In 2019, O’Fallon joined the 5k Walk/Run. “It was probably one of the biggest accomplishments of my life because a year or two before, I had a hard time walking ten minutes, and then here I was finishing a 5K,” she says.
By then, O’Fallon’s colleague at Amazon Web Services was seeking to establish a formal Obliteride program —and he asked her to lead it. After initially hesitating, she decided that her commitment to cures, for people everywhere, was important. She took the job.
“Fred Hutch and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance saved my life,” says O’Fallon. “And I believe so much in the work that the Hutch is doing now, not just with cancer, but other diseases.” Even more, she says, “I just don't want others to have to get diagnosed with cancer…. It's the hardest thing I've ever, ever gone through.”
Now, thanks to O’Fallon’s leadership, there are more than a thousand Amazonians on 158 Obliteride teams, from Minneapolis to Singapore. And, with this year’s virtual event and choose-your-own options, participants are setting all kinds of goals for activities ranging from paddle-boarding to meditating.
“I can't speak for everyone, but I think [at Amazon] we're all hungry to do more and really make a difference with important causes,” she says, adding that cancer doesn’t have any geographical boundaries — so the teams don’t, either. “Our team is global and accessible to all Amazonians.”
Now in remission, and after building her strength and completing a life-changing hike to Machu Picchu, O’Fallon is planning 12 hikes for Obliteride this year. She’ll be accompanied — in spirit — by thousands of teammates around the world.
Says O’Fallon, “It keeps me going knowing that other people are as passionate about finding the cure as I am.”
— By Laura Anderson
Join the fun! Obliteride unites people of all ages and abilities to do any activity they love, have fun, and raise critical funding for lifesaving cancer research at Fred Hutch. Register today at Obliteride.org.
About this series
So much of Fred Hutch’s lifesaving research is only possible because of the generosity of its supporters. Just how critical their support is became apparent when we faced an unexpected and unfunded challenge: COVID-19. While we were pivoting our infectious disease expertise to take on this new disease, the pandemic’s economic impact and lockdowns were constraining our budget and our ability to conduct cancer research.
In that moment of crisis, the Hutch community understood that fearless science was more important than ever. Nearly 40,000 people in 50 states and 51 countries responded to the Hutch’s calls for support. They made new gifts or increased the size of their annual contributions, and they used their creativity and resourcefulness to raise money. Fueled by this support, the Hutch kept its cancer research moving forward while helping to lead the world through the current crisis.
This series highlights just a few of the thousands of Fred Hutch supporters who are part of the Heart of the Hutch.
“The Hutch is the root of my life,” said Joan de Bruin. That life could have easily turned out differently.
The first oncologist she talked to was, let’s say, not a good match. “I have good news and bad news,” he said on a Thursday in 2002. “The good news: You won’t die by Monday. The bad news: You have leukemia.”
“I didn’t drink or smoke. I was healthy,” said de Bruin, who lives in southern California. “But he said I was too old for a transplant at age 60. So I decided to get a second opinion.”
Her experience in Seattle could not have been more different. The Fred Hutch physician-scientist she met with spent time explaining her condition and the blood stem cell procedure that could save her life. “I felt like I was sitting in a lecture class,” she said. “The people there were so giving and caring. And I couldn’t believe the up-to-date equipment. It was such a revelation.”
Much has changed for de Bruin since her blood stem cell transplant. At the time, she was a visual artist and director of the Craft and Folk Museum under the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department. After her transplant, she took up writing fiction and has published three books to date. “I found my voice,” she said. “If the Hutch hadn’t saved my life, the books wouldn’t have been written.”
De Bruin had already found one way to support our cancer research by putting Fred Hutch in her will. But when she heard that the Hutch needed support for COVID-19 research, she decided to donate her stimulus check to the effort.
“It’s very important to support the research,” she explained. “As a transplant recipient, I’m immuno-compromised, and so are many other people. I hope I can inspire them to do the same.”
— By Lesley Reed
Fred Hutch researchers have played a leading role in the international scientific response to the pandemic thanks to generous supporters like de Bruin, but we’re not done. Learn more about the impact of your support on the COVID-19 response.
Video games may be virtual, but things got real when a streamer known as Chibi_Ichig0 told her viewers on the livestreaming gaming platform Twitch that she would eat a whole onion covered in sriracha when she raised $500 for Fred Hutch.
She kept her word — and went on to take a pie in the face when she reached $1,000. Streamers Bustin and FrivviFox stepped up, too, holding a bakeoff with a twist. Every time they received a $250 donation, one of them got a chance to sabotage the other’s cake.
Over the last two years, dozens of social media influencers have used their platforms (and passion) to raise money for Fred Hutch research through online charity streams on Twitch or Facebook Live.
One of the first to hold a charity stream for the Hutch was a former model based in Los Angeles whose screen handle is Avori. She’s now one of the top female players of the game PUBG and an advocate for female gamers.
“Every time we ask, she will do a charity event for us, and she always puts a creative spin on it,” said Andrea Larson, a senior manager in Fred Hutch’s Philanthropy Department. “She has a big following. People love her.”
When she was 14, Avori lost one of her best friends to leukemia. “She went so fast,” Avori said. “It really hit home.” Two years later, her dad survived a rare form of brain hemorrhage. “There was no research on his type of symptoms,” she said. “He didn’t have a lot of help when he was suffering.”
These are the people she talks about when asked why she selected Fred Hutch as her charity of choice. “We need more research for the things they don’t know how to treat,” she said. “It’s the unknown. The day they say we found a cure or a better treatment plan — my goal is to be a part of that amazing news.”
And why gaming? “I love the opportunities it provides,” she said. “There’s the game — increasing skill level and then being able to showcase that — and then there’s the community aspect. It makes people feel they’re part of something larger than themselves. And charity streams bring our hearts and our minds together.”
Most of Avori’s charity streams have raised money for cancer research, but in May of 2020, she devoted one to COVID-19. As she played, Dr. Amitabha "Guppy" Gupta, Fred Hutch scientific content strategist, answered viewers’ questions about the coronavirus and described the Hutch’s research. At least 200,000 people tuned in, including a viewer who donated his COVID-19 stimulus check.
“I was so thankful he took that leap of faith to trust in Fred Hutch,” Avori said. “It’s amazing to see people come together for a cause.”
— By Lesley Reed
Are you a streamer? Your skills can help improve lives. Our streaming kit includes quick facts, short videos you can share with your fans, interesting swag and more.
Tanner Swanson was one week away from starting his first full season as the catching coach for the New York Yankees when COVID-19 put the baseball season on hold. So he flew back to Roslyn, a small town in Washington’s Cascade mountains, to shelter with his wife and two kids.
Bunkered down at home, he talked shop and shared tips with fellow coaches over Zoom. But he quickly began to feel helpless as the new virus spread across the country. Then he hit on a plan to keep the coaching community connected and support COVID-19 research: a grassroots fundraising effort he dubbed Coaches vs. COVID.
Swanson offered virtual skills clinics to baseball coaches of all levels anywhere in the world. The cost to attend: a suggested $10 to $25 donation to Fred Hutch.
“Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center and its partner, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, are both organizations that are very personal to me,” Swanson explained on his Fundraise for Fred Hutch webpage. “In 2018, I lost my older sister Ashley Berg to breast cancer, and these organizations had important roles in her various treatments throughout her long journey.”
Swanson invited other professional coaches to share their expertise using their networks. The idea clearly resonated. MLB coaches like Hall of Famer Dan Wilson, Kai Correa from the San Francisco Giants, the Chicago Cubs’ Craig Driver, Cody Atkinson from the Texas Rangers, and the Baltimore Orioles’ Tim Cossins offered webinars.
The popular clinics drew about 150 people each, and Coaches vs. COVID blew past its $25,000 goal in just over a month — in time for Swanson and his fellow coaches to return to their teams for the start of a very unusual baseball season.
Coaches vs. COVID was “a way to feel like I could contribute in some capacity to something positive, whether contact tracing, or a vaccine, or whatever work the Hutch believes is most necessary,” Swanson said in an interview for a May 2020 Fred Hutch News Service story. He thanked the Hutch for supporting the campaign. “This has been a collaborative effort,” he said. “I’ve been personally inspired by [the Hutch’s] mission and the response.”
— By Lesley Reed
Interested in rallying your friends and family to support Fred Hutch’s research? The sky’s the limit on what you can do: Share your skills. Ask people to donate in honor of your birthday or the memory of a loved one. Organize a coronavirus-safe athletic fundraiser. Everything you need for a successful event is on our Fundraise for Fred Hutch website.
More than 70,000 lights. Two and a half miles of cable and 10 wireless devices. CO2 jets and a sparkle machine. That was just some of the gear Bruce Haldors used in his elaborate holiday lights show at his home in Redmond, Washington.
People who stopped to watch tuned their radios to listen to music synced with the lights. They also heard a message from Haldors about a young woman named Tess and Fred Hutch.
Tess Halbert is a former classmate of Haldors’ daughter. Like his daughter, she graduated from high school on June 12, 2020. But on June 13, while her friends were busy celebrating, Halbert was learning she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Her doctors at Seattle Children's created a treatment plan in collaboration with Fred Hutch specialists; she's now finished treatment and is doing well. Meanwhile, Halbert’s community decided to look for ways to support the Hutch’s search for cancer cures. Her community included Alee Spencer, a Fred Hutch board of ambassadors member, who suggested that the Haldors’ light show could be a way to honor Tess while raising funds for research.
Haldors and his friend and co-creator, Josh Adams, knew their community would especially appreciate holiday lights because indoor celebrations were being cancelled due to COVID-19. They posted a sign asking “anyone who feels uplifted by our Christmas lights to make a gift to Fred Hutch in honor of Tess.”
They also set up a website, HisLights.com, where people could make a donation. “We’re readier than ever for a healthier world and to put cancer in the history books,” Haldors wrote on the site. “Let’s invest together in the science that will get us there — and do it in honor of Tess!”
Thanks to an anonymous donor who offered a dollar-for-dollar match, the holiday lights show raised more than $75,000.
“The lights brought joy to Tess, but also to so many others,” said Bruce’s wife, Karen Haldors. “Many appreciated the opportunity to honor people in their lives who have had cancer, or their own cancer experiences, through supporting the Hutch’s research.”
— By Lesley Reed
Are you interested in reprinting or republishing this story? Be our guest! We want to help connect people with the information they need. We just ask that you link back to the original article, preserve the author’s byline and refrain from making edits that alter the original context. Questions? Email us at email@example.com