In 2015, the lives of Chris and Christina Haslage changed the moment a friend forgot where he had parked his car. While it's a relatable mishap for many, the couple from Ohio said the level of confusion in their friend was uncharacteristic. Worse, it sparked an all-too-familiar feeling of dread.
They recommended that the friend schedule an appointment with a doctor, who gave him a brain cancer diagnosis. Even with this early warning, initial treatment and transitioning to a life with such a diagnosis was difficult. The Haslages helped: This was one of their closest friends since moving to Texas, and they both intimately knew the fight ahead.
On Thanksgiving of that year, the Haslages gathered with family, which included Christina's mother, Dr. Patricia Todd, and her sister, Jessica Manrow. Their discussion eventually led to the ways cancer had affected each of them, taking family, friends and loved ones, or at the very least dominating their lives and limited resources. But this time, they agreed something needed to be done. All of them wanted to give back in a material way to help ease the burden cancer diagnoses place on patients and the people in their lives.
“We just want to make sure nobody else has to struggle with what goes along with treatment and life, post diagnosis," Christina Haslage said in an interview at PAX South in January.
Haslage attended the gaming convention in San Antonio to promote the charity organization that arose from those 2015 dinner table talks: 1UpOnCancer. Based in Dallas and managed by the Haslages and their family, 1UpOnCancer provides medical bill relief and resources for anyone in the U.S. dealing with cancer. But they particularly want to reach out to the gaming community.
“A lot of companies out there do walkathons already, with matched donations and all that," Haslage says. "We wanted something unique. My husband and I both grew up gaming, and we already stream games all the time. Why not make that our thing?”
Manrow had also begun streaming video games through an online service called Twitch, which allows anyone to tune in to a real-time stream of the player's desktop or webcom. Besides games, popular categories include makeup, casual chatting and eating (or mukbang, after the South Korean pastime). Even in 2015, events and organizations were capitalizing on the grassroots nature of Twitch to crowdfund. Why not cancer relief, they thought?
Their organization, which is 501(c)(3) certified, was built with transparency from the ground up to show anyone interested in donating their real intentions. Haslage wouldn't name any specific groups or allegations but insisted that distrust or doubt would never be a concern for those supporting 1UpOnCancer. Their stake in this fight is personal.
Holding quarterly drives is the biggest and most public-facing part of their work. Partnered streamers, who agree to play games under their banner in order to raise funds, need to be recruited before each event. And the logistics of syncing schedules across time zones and countries can be daunting.
Beyond that, the family tries to attend conventions and shows across the country for outreach and recruitment. They also maintain a presence at Texas events like QuakeCon, DreamHack, Comicpalooza and more. Nobody at 1UpOnCancer works as an employee, so volunteers of any kind help them keep the wheels spinning.
Growth over the last five years has been slow but gradual, says Haslage. Since beginning in late 2015, they have given more than $100,000 to applicants to help mitigate the financial burden healthcare costs placed on those managing a cancer diagnosis. Everyone at 1UpOnCancer says they wish they could do more, but every year they have broadened their reach, attended more events and increased their charitable giving.
But the number of people seeking aid has grown as well.
"Every year we get more applications but have to make decisions on who we give the money to. That’s the hardest part, every time," Haslage says.
The team considers every application they receive, Manrow says. For them, the hardest part is knowing they can't accept every patient and preparing themselves for the "emotional roller coaster" when they invariably learn someone who sent in an application or was awaiting to get treatment they helped pay for has died. Calling it occupational hazard is perhaps too crass, but it happens all too often.
"People say I must be such a strong woman for going through all that, you know. I’m really not." Haslage says. "Sometimes, people just need us to be strong. They’re lost, vulnerable and can’t find resources. That’s part of our job.”
It also helps when they focus on the good they've already accomplished and plan for the future. 1UpOnCancer is currently accepting applications both for aid and for partners and volunteers. Anyone who wishes to donate their money or time by streaming under their banner can do so by contacting their office. Nothing, Manrow says, is too small to be appreciated.
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"We are always very welcoming towards ‘small’ influencers or streamers. Because you have to start somewhere. We sure did," she says. Advances on Twitch help charity organizations like theirs stand out from the immense crowd by placing them in an easily searchable category of their own. They also frequently make it to front page — such an honor means that a particular stream is one of the first things users see when they come to Twitch, resulting in a lot of new eyeballs on that content.
For those who would rather volunteer their time in person, Haslage says event coordination is one of the biggest needs for their organization. Staffing a booth, talking with anyone interested and listening to stories have proved to be one of their most reliable growth vectors. Everyone knows someone affected by cancer, and the interconnected world of gaming doesn't dilute that intimacy.
Haslage, Manrow and Todd are confident about the next five years for 1UpOnCancer. They now have a mascot, Charity the Chinchilla, who was designed by online artist Voxann. Their event and streaming schedule are only growing, and they are constantly looking for talent they can feature on streams.
“This organization doesn’t just belong to us. It belongs to others; it belongs to the community," Haslage says. “Cancer isn’t limited to just one family, so neither are we.”