Meeting Tears With Mascots (and Making a Difference for Kids with Rare Disease)

Nov 19, 2018 | Patient Blog

As a parent, you would give your life to spare your child from harm. In America today, nearly 16,000 children will be diagnosed with cancer each year. Add to that the countless others who are battling a rare disease or chronic illness and suddenly, you have a chorus of tears that would fill up every sporting event stadium in the world.

The shock, horror, fear, and everything in between can oftentimes be too much. “How could this happen?” we ask. Yet, like that of a modern-day athlete, who week in and week out competes within these very stadiums, a new star player begins to emerge.

Is there anyone on earth braver, stronger, and can display more courage than that of a child battling cancer, rare disease, or chronic illness? No.

Yet, in this, is there anything on earth that can seem more unfair? No.

For Derek Zinser, founder of Mascots for a Cure (MFAC), a non-profit that is dedicated to help children and their families battling cancer, rare disease, and other illnesses, he has seen firsthand the strength of a child and the impact they have on their families, as they themselves fight on with such heroism.

“These children provide their entire family with the strength that is needed to get through their journey and battle.” Derek recently told us.

For MFAC, they see this play out every single day. One mom, whose daughter Sadie had recently been diagnosed with leukemia shared with them “We are hopeful because she is strong.” For their family, superhuman strength is not just something we read about in comic books, but rather, something they see every day in the life of their precious daughter.

But for Sadie’s family, and many others, they know that it does indeed take a village, a community of support. And that’s where Mascots for a Cure comes into the picture.

Sadie’s mom continued, “When families are living through a difficult and stressful time, it is so helpful to be supported. Mascots for a Cure offers families the opportunity to cultivate positive experiences together. It is so important to make memories that are fun during this time. It is so special to spend time together.”

Who Is Mascots For A Cure?

At Patient Services Inc., we have the privilege to partner with as well as come across some pretty incredible organizations that are making a real difference in this world. When we learned of the work Mascots for a Cure was doing, we had to learn more, and we thought you would to.

We recently sat down with Derek to learn more about this unique non-profit that is bringing actual mascots together to make a difference, raise awareness, and to find a cure for the many rare diseases in this world affecting our children.

What inspired you to start Mascots for a Cure?

I created Mascots for a Cure to honor my father who I lost to cancer on New Year’s Day in 2009. I saw the pain and sadness that he had to go through and just couldn’t imagine a 3-year-old or any child for that matter going through what he had to.  I wanted to create something that was meaningful, fun and would help children and their families fight back against cancer and other serious illnesses.

What is one of your most favorite memories since launching MFAC?

One of my favorite memories (there are many) since creating MFAC, would be our National Tour that we created in 2016. It was a combination of creating a big idea like this, visiting 36 cities and Children’s Hospitals, getting sponsors on board and the overall logistics behind it all. It was an undertaking to say the least. However, the best part about the tour was seeing the hundreds of smiles that we were able to put on the faces of children and their families across the nation.

When did you know that there was something special about MFAC?

The moment I realized that there was something really special about MFAC and that it was full of potential, was during the Eugene / Springfield, Oregon Relay for Life. I was the entertainment chair for the relay, which at the time was the third largest relay in the world. As a volunteer who lost a family member to cancer, I wanted to create events and opportunities that were fun and lighthearted. Everyone knows how serious cancer is and how horrible it can be. I really wanted to bring smiles, hope and joy to everyone in attendance. It worked! It didn’t matter if people were 2 years old or 92 years old, everyone had a great time and were smiling. It was at that moment that I knew we had something special and unique with Mascots for a Cure.

How did the Chubby Checker Twist connection come about?

I wanted to create a fun social media challenge that was geared around dancing (mainly because Ellen DeGeneres is my favorite person on the planet), that everyone regardless of age and talent could do (doing the Twist is fun and couldn’t be any easier), and was to one of my favorite songs (Chubby Checker’s ‘The Twist’ was recently named the #1 song ever by Billboard). After months of trying to reach out to Chubby Checker through his website, we decided to reach out to an Oldies radio station in Philadelphia.  One of their main radio DJ’s knew his publicist, Shelly.  We had a meeting with Shelly and Chubby, told them about our idea and our vision and with a lot of work and effort, it took off from there. 2019 will be the third National Twist Day!

What Makes Mascots For A Cure Unique?

There is no doubt that everybody loves a mascot. Going to a sporting event these days where the home team has a mascot is as much a part of the experience as the game itself. So, bringing mascots together for such an incredible cause is unique in it of itself. But, it’s also in something they call a Knighting Ceremony that makes their work so special.

What is the Knighting Ceremony?

Is there one story you recall that you can share? Our signature Knighting Ceremony is something that we perform during Children’s Hospital visits, home visits, at special events and more. Our Knighting Ceremony provides these children with the courage and hope that they need to take on their fight. One story that really stood out to me is when we were on our National Tour at CS Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Every Knighting Ceremony that we perform, the children love it and are smiling. In this particular visit, it wasn’t the children that it touched, but the grandparents of the child we were performing a Knighting Ceremony with. It was almost as if they could feel the courage, hope and strength that this simple ceremony provided to their granddaughter. It was such an amazing feeling to see that mascots and our Knighting Ceremony could provide such a positive impact in that moment for these children and their families.

Lessons Learned From Launching Mascots For A Cure

Along the way, the lessons learned for Derek and his band of merry mascots are too numerous to count. This always seems to be the case when doing good work in the service for others. For the ones doing the serving, they end up being the ones who are impacted the most. Humbled in the presence of such bravery, courage, and enduring strength, we go to serve, and come back, having been served. We asked Derek that if he could even just profile a couple lessons that stand above the rest, what would they be. Without hesitation, Derek gave us three:

  1.  These children provide their entire family with the strength that is needed to get through their journey and battle.
  2. These children are older, wiser and stronger than their age shows.
  3. These children just want to be reminded that they are kids, not cancer patients.

A Message To Parents Of Children Battling Rare Disease

Knowing that we at PSI have the honor to partner up with many parents whose children are facing incredible odds each and every day, Derek shared with us a few words to pass on in hopes of encouraging these warrior parents; “Always hold onto hope, joy and love as these are three very powerful medicines during anyone’s battle. To never ever give up, no matter the circumstances.”

The Future Is Bright For This Unique Non-Profit

Recently relocated to Philadelphia, Derek’s vision has a bright future to make an even more of a difference in the lives of children and their families in ways that will encourage them emotionally, spiritually, and financially during their battle. In asking Derek to look down the road 5 years, he quickly adds, “I would like to see MFAC as the leading childhood illnesses non-profit in creating meaningful opportunities and memories for children and their families.”

For families like Sadie’s, Mascots for a Cure, has already arrived. And perhaps now, for all those stadiums that have been filled with tears, perhaps they will be met with mascots, as they together, draw strength from the greatest star players the world has ever seen, the children.

You can learn more about Mascots for a Cure at


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