One Mission: Buzz Off For Kids
Podcast #102 — Aired August 12, 2016

When he was just a baby, Ashley Haseotes’ son was diagnosed with pediatric cancer. This week on BetterWorldians Radio we’re speaking with Haseotes about how the experience inspired her and her husband, Ari, to start a non-profit that would help families in similar situations. Haseotes’ son is now 10 years cancer free and her non-profit, One Mission, has raised over $6 million in six years.

 

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Ashley Haseotes
President & Founder, One Mission

Ashley Haseotes, the president and founder of One Mission, a pediatric cancer foundation that does whatever it takes to get kids through cancer. Ashley graduated from Framingham State College in 1998 and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling. Shortly after Ashley’s first child was born, he was diagnosed with cancer. He is now 10 years cancer free. This experience inspired Ashley and her husband Ari to start a non-profit that would help other families through this same journey.

Episode Transcript

Raymond Hansell
Hi. Welcome to BetterWorldians Radio. BetterWorldians Radio is a weekly broadcast whose mission is to uplift and inspire you to make the world a better place. I'm Ray Hansell, joined today by my co-host, MarySue Hansell. BetterWorldians Radio is brought to you by Better World Foundation and is co-hosted by the family team that created the popular social game on Facebook called 'A Better World.'. It rewards players for doing good deeds, while helping to raise money and awareness for charities. To date, over 40 million good deeds have been done in 'A Better World' by more than 4 million people round the world. These good deeds include expressions of gratitude, acts of kindness, sending notes to real-world sick kids, just to name a few. This week on BetterWorldians Radio we welcome Ashley, the president of One Mission, a paediatric cancer foundation that does whatever it takes to get kids through cancer. Ashley graduated from Framingham State College in 1998 and is currently pursuing her masters degree in Mental Health Counselling. Shortly after Ashleys first child was born, he was diagnosed with cancer. He is now 10 years cancer free. This experience inspired Ashley and her husband Ari to start a non-profit that would help other families through this very difficult journey. Hi Ashley and thanks for joining us on BetterWorldians Radio.

Ashley
Hello, thanks for having me.

Raymond Hansell
Oh, you're very welcome. Paediatric cancer is a cause that's near and dear to your heart. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about your son and by the way, your son's name is--

Ashley
-- Nicholas--

Raymond Hansell
Nicholas, who was diagnosed with leukaemia as an infant?

Ashley
Yeah, sure. Nicholas was seven months old when he was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia called AML. You guys are probably more used to kids having ALL, and believe it or not, when you're waiting for the actual diagnosis, like once you know your kid has leukaemia and you're waiting, everybody prays for ALL. Which is crazy, that you're actually praying for a particular type of cancer but ALL has a 95 to 98% success rate. It has a longer treatment course, about two years and AML is a little bit more intense. It's six months of intense treatment. Unfortunately, I guess now it doesn't really matter, but at the time, unfortunately, Nicholas' type of cancer was only seen in 55 year old women, all of those had passed away. So they gave him about a 50/50 shot that he would make it six months post-treatment. So, six months of treatment and they were like, 'Listen, go home, enjoy your time together, make life what you can make it.'. It wasn't a warm and fuzzy send-off. We did our treatment at Boston Childrens Hospital and then we left there and we went to St. Jude. We did an experimental procedure called an MK transplant. We actually think that's what gave him his cure. MK cells are part of your immune system, you know, like fighter cells, white blood cells. MK cells would help you - everyone has them - they help fight colds, flu, viruses, bacteria, all that stuff. So they took my natural killer cells , they harvested them out of me and then gave them to Nicholas with the thought and theory behind that if he had any remaining cancer in his body that many natural killer cells would find it, as foreign, and kill it. We stayed at St. Jude for a little over a month and now he's ten years cancer free.

Raymond Hansell
That is fantastic. Congratulations. What inspired you to start One Mission? What did you hope to accomplish?

Ashley
At the time I wasn't totally sure. All I knew was we were living at Boston's Children's and the treatment for AML is so intense that they don't let you go home. At the time they didn't let you go home. I think that they're trying to let you go home now but this was ten years ago. They were like, 'Let's hunker down. You're moving into the hospital. This is your new home.'. AML cases, by the way, there was probably three of them in your time in the hospital so it's not a lot. So, the AML kids, they hunker down, you live there. The rest of the kids are in and out- it's about a 4 to 5 day stay for the other types of cancers that kids get. We were pretty consistent and we were watching some of these kids come and go and there was- all of us families had the same things in common. The emotional part is obvious. It's a complete nightmare. The financial piece was different for every family and the distraction piece was completely missing from the hospital back then- it was 2006. I mean, like, these kids are stuck in hospital and there just wasn't enough for them to do. There weren't any programs and services that were consistent. There wasn't anything there. And if it happened, say for instance somebody came by and said, 'Hey, do you want to come into the resource room and participate in the music?'. I think that happened once in six months. I just kept writing things down, I think I still have the list some place: good toys; personal effects for the family. I just had this list going. I had no idea- I think at the time I thought I would give my own money, just donate to the hospital and then Nicholas got really, really sick. He actually almost died three times during treatment but this one particular time we had to pack up and go to the ICU. And when we were in the elevator - I was in the crib with him - in the elevator having a little pity party for myself again and I just kept saying, 'I don't understand why this happened. Why did this happen to us? Why did this happen to Nicholas?'. And my husband said, 'I know why this happened.' And I said, 'Why?' and he said, 'Because God know when we get out of here we're going to make a difference.'. I said,'How are we going to do that?' and he said, 'No idea. We'll figure it out then.'. And we went through the rest of the treatment, I kept taking my notes, kept asking questions: 'Why don't we have this? Why didn't we have a nice catered meal? We had it last month but we don't have it this month.' and the answers that I got were pretty consistent, like, 'We had something for that once but now we don't.'. So, I came home and decided to start a foundation. And I actually contacted children's hospitals, said, 'I'm going to start a foundation, I'm going to raise money and I'm going to give you the money but I'm going to tell you how to spend it. And here are some general ideas of what I want to do.'. And then I just started working and haven't stopped.

Raymond Hansell
That's amazing. That's how many of the missions, many of the charities that we work with, have really gotten underway. They're driven by a mission - called, if you will - to this cause, and they figure it out as they go along. As they were driven, they're driven on a daily basis and then all of a sudden, ten years go by and there you are. Do you have some favorite stories of the families that you've actually helped through One Mission?

Ashley
So many. We have over a thousand new families a year, because we're not just in Boston. We're at Boston's Children's Hospital, we're at the Jimmy Fund Clinic because those patients - for those listeners that don't understand - the Jimmy Fund Clinic is really the out-patient hospital for kids with cancer. When you are in-patient, meaning you're living in the hospital because you're super sick or because part of your protocol requires you to be in the hospital, that's when you live at Boston Children's. But they're the same doctors and same families, so... Our presence was growing at such a rapid rate at Boston's Children's Hospital and we were expanding all f our programs and creating new ones and keeping the resources at the center open for longer by funding staff - because that was a big thing for me. Whenever I wanted to use the resource center it was always closed when we were there, because they didn't have funding to pay the staff. What was happening was that the patients at Boston Children's' were getting discharged and going home, still in treatment, and they were going to the Jimmy Fund Clinic and they were like,' Hey, where's my Taco Tuesday? Where's my St. Patrick's Party? Where are my free present passes?'. So, Dana Farber came to us and said, 'Hey, can we bring some One Mission programs to our institution?' so we did that. We have Hasbro Children's Hospital in Rhode Island, we're in Texas and now in Philly so there's so many people and we get so many amazing emails, I can't really put my finger on one. But I just love reading people's posts like, 'I don't know what I would do without One Mission.' ; 'I love that One Mission knows exactly what I need.' . Those are the ones that make my heart sing because it's so great to know that, having lived through it, taught me what I need to know, what I needed to do, we're doing it. And I push the hospital partners pretty hard. I push them out of their comfort zone all the time. When I talk about expanding programs, brining in new programs and making sure that we are thinking about what it's like to live in the hospital because unfortunately, most great hospitals really focus on curing the child and keeping them alive, they don't necessarily think about quality of life in the process. To be able to say one particular story, I don't have one but they're all special because I know we're helping them and I know how much it means to them because I lived it, you know?

Raymond Hansell
Wonderful work.

MarySue Hansell
Hi Ashley.

Ashley
Hi.

MarySue Hansell
You know, Buzz Off is a really big event there at One Mission. Can you explain what Buzz Off is all about to our listeners?

Ashley
I can. So the Buzz Off was a last-minute idea for me. I was pregnant with my third child and my father-in-law had passed away the previous spring. I ran the charity out of my house for the first five years and so I'm at the desk and I'm looking through my PNL and I'm like, 'Oh, boy!'. We moved flowers last spring. We raised like $15,000 and I was like, 'Boy, I'm going to be down 15 grand this year. What can I do?'. And I used to always look through our photo album from when we were in the hospital, not that I was forgetting the journey but I just didn't really want to forget. I wanted to make sure that I was keeping my pulse on what the patients that were currently living in the hospital were going through. So I used to look at my pictures a lot. I came across this picture the day that we shaved off Nicholas' remaining hair and it was a very traumatic day - not for Nicholas but for me and my husband, Ari. The nurses used to say to us everyday, 'Shave it off. Shave it off. Shave it off.' because when it comes off - most of the listeners will have known somebody with cancer - it comes off in clumps. Nicholas was an infant so we were in his hospital crib with him. My mouth, his mouth, it was everywhere and they kept saying, ' Shave it off. Shave it off.' and we were like 'No!', we didn't want to do that. This one articular day, we got our new attending physician and she came in and introduced herself and she handed me the clippers. She said, 'Hello, I'm Barbara. I'm your new attendant physician. So today we're going to shave Nicholas' head. Here are the clippers. I'll be back in fifteen minutes.'. And Ari and I were like, 'Ah...what?!' so we did it and we shaved off the rest of his hair and we were bawling our eyes out the whole time. We finished and we took a picture of him, that picture that I was looking at. And he was smiling. Then Barbara comes back in and she says, 'Okay, everybody good? Are you guys okay?' because we were hysterical. She said, 'Are you guys okay?' and I went, 'No, I'm not okay. Barbara, look at him. He looks just like a cancer patient.'. He didn't have any eyebrows or eyelashes because they'd already fallen out. Now he had no hair. And she put her hand on my shoulder and she said, 'Sweetheart, he is a cancer patient.'. And that's when it hit me. Like, the losing of the hair is the last piece of treatment that you can no longer hide it from the world. I could no longer take him anywhere, everybody was going to know that he had cancer. So, I was looking at that picture, remembering that particular day and I thought, like, I remember feeling so alone. Our friends and family, they can only step up to the plate so much because they don't know what to do and they don't know what to say. Frankly, they just don't because they haven't lived it so they're going on with their lives. Their kids need to go to soccer practice and should be able to go to birthday parties but when you're in he hospital with your kid, you want the entire world to stop. I felt like, I was so angry and sad and I didn't know how to process those feelings. Looking at this picture that day, remembering all of that and I thought, 'I need to come up with an idea where people make the physical sacrifice for these kids.', and we raise money and at the same time we raise awareness because kids with cancer is a very small population of people in the world. Everybody goes pink in October and I get it. I have friends that had breast cancer so they need awareness but the kids with cancer, they get so little awareness compare to everybody else. I called a couple of my board members and said, "I have this idea. We should get people to shave their heads for us.'. Everybody laughed at me, 'It's never going to happen. No one's ever going to do that'. And I said, 'No, I think they will and I think that they're going to feel so empowered that it's going to be a thing. I think this can be a thing.'. And so a month and a half later, I came up with the idea, we called it the 'One Mission Buzz Off' and we got people to shave their heads. The first year was so small, it was 21 people and raised something like 34 grand, so it was very small. My board members came and they were like, 'Oh my God, we can feel it. The energy in this room is so intense.' and I said, 'Yeah, you can feel that?' and they were like,' Yeah.'. So then we just kept it going and it grew and then we got partners involved and sponsors involved and I hung up thousands and thousands of flyers. We got sports teams to participate and here we are. So this is our sixth year and must have shaved about 1,500 heads every year.

MarySue Hansell
How much money have you raised with this great idea?

Ashley
We've raised a little over $6 million. We're a small charity- we're only six years old and I have three paid staff. I pay myself, we're very small but I always tell people that maybe One Mission is small but our dollars are very impactful because the money that The Buzz Off raises does not go into the black hole. There is no black hole at One Mission. The money that we raise- I pay my staff, I save a little money for a rainy day fund in case funds are down - but all of it goes to our hospital partners. It's not 100% but it's like 87% of the money that we raise goes to our programs and services. We make sure that our hospital partners are improving and putting smiles on the faces of the kids and that's where the money goes. We have marathon teams, we have other things but The Buzz Off is the biggest and I think that's it's the biggest because people really- you know, you either want to make the sacrifice of going bald or you don't. But if you've made that conviction, like, 'I'm ready to do this.' everybody says, everybody - and I'm talking we've probably shaved over 5,000 heads since the beginning, right? Everybody that I talk to says that The Buzz Off has changed their life.

MarySue Hansell
You know, Ashley, a lot of people might wonder what happens to all that hair?

Ashley
We definitely keep the qualifying hair for wigs - we've been doing that since the beginning. The only tricky part about that is most wig companies don't want color-treated hair, the ponytail has to be x-number of inches long, but to be frank with you, we give it all to them. And then we let them sort through it because we don't ever want to make the mistake of misjudging a ponytail. So we cut all the ponytails, we throw it all in the box and about- so our Gillette Buzz Off is the biggest- we shave about 320 women's heads so it breaks up between men, women and kids and there's about a third, a third, a third.

MarySue Hansell
At this point, everyone's wondering, 'How can we help support One Mission?'. Tell us.

Ashley
We have our Silly Buzz Off, it's at Lincoln Financial Funder, and that is in the spring. Our Gillette Stadium Buzz Off is the first or second week in June every year. Our Texas Buzz Off is sometime in the spring. We have to co-ordinate dates and times- we haven't really picked our dates after the first of the year. But honestly, we have people all over the country who shave for us on their own, or they get a team together within their company, or within their volleyball team or their softball team. People shave for us on their own time. Some people want to be a part of the big event and so they wait for the spring but some people, once they've made the decision to shave, they don't want to wait. And that's fine too. Everybody can participate on their own time. all they have to do is go to buzzforkids.org and you can pick a location or you can shave on your own and people can participate.

MarySue Hansell
Well, I just hope everybody does that. It's just a wonderful cause. Now, my last big question for you, Ashley, is how do you hope One Mission is helping to make the world a better place?

Ashley
Well, I know that we have started. We're on our mission, no pun intended, of that for sure, because that is my sole purpose and I know how important what we do is to the families because I lived it. My hope is that we continue to do exactly what we're doing and that's finding out the needs of the patients and that particular hospital and getting the funds together to put together programs that meet the needs of those particular families. For instance, our hospital partner in Rhode Island, we have an arts in-residence program where we get local artists, painters, sculptors, yoga, mediation and they come in and they put their program on for the patients. Some of the quotes - I just got a report yesterday - some of the quotes that I got from patients and other are just so profound. The kids don't want them to leave. Art, as you know, is an expression of the soul. So that's what's that hospital partner needed and that's what we gave them. Music therapy is a huge one for me; decorating their hospital rooms to make them feel less like hospital rooms and more like home. I sit down with every hospital partner and I say, 'This is what we do with other hospitals. We have about 30, 40 programs. What do your patients need? What are your holes?' and then together we collaborate. My hope is that more people want to participate in The Buzz Off, whether they shave on their own or they help us, come up- I'm sure that the people listening are doers, like me. I need do-ers in other parts of the world, other states that we're not in, that want to say, 'I want to be a One Mission chapter here in South Carolina.' and if we can collaborate with those people and we bring a hospital partner in, boom, there's a new hospital partner. I want to grow in a way that's impactful. I want to make sure- a big thing at One Mission is sustainability. I won't ever fly into a state and say, 'Here are some programs. I don't know if I'm going to come back next year.' Because I know what that feels like. When we were at the hospital, like I said, sometimes we had catered dinners and sometimes we didn't. That's not how we do things. But growing in a very smart way and finding those who want to help us to being our programs, or like I said, to fill the needs of hospital partners, new hospital partners- that's what we will do. My hope is that people in the community will continue to participate and continue to volunteer for us. Together we can do whatever it takes to get kids through cancer, no pun intended!

Raymond Hansell
I can feel your passion. There's actually, no pun intended, a buzz, it's palpable. I commend you for all the work that you're doing and I know, I can feel that the race is in your favor. You'll continue to do amazing things to get kids through cancer. For our listeners, you can learn more about One Mission by going to buzzforkids.org. Ashley, thanks a million for being on BetterWorldians Radio today.

Ashley
Thank you guys so much and I really appreciate everything that you're doing in highlighting the good in the world because turning on the news, every now and then, is sometimes a little depressing. I applaud you guys for really focusing on the good that we do have in the world and I'm very grateful for that, in having One Mission being a part of that. Thank you so much.

Raymond Hansell
You're very welcome. It's a lot of fun being on this particular show because we get to hear all the good news. Every week, something else, good that's happening. That's amazing.

Ashley
I love it. You guys must be smiling all day, every day.

Raymond Hansell
Yep, yep, yep.

Ashley
Great, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Raymond Hansell
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