For Tyler Stover, founder and executive director of Hope vs. Cancer foundation, tattoos have serious healing power. He got his first tattoo in memory of his father, who passed away tragically one week after Stover’s seventh birthday. It was only natural that Stover turned to the art form when he had the opportunity to cheer up a little girl in his building who was battling cancer.
After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, the little girl was evacuated to Miami to continue treatments for an aggressive form of cancer. Stover would often cross paths with her and her family, coming in and out of the building. They even developed a secret handshake to brighten her spirits.
“It broke my heart when I would see her coming back from treatment,” Stover said. “She could barely look up at me in the elevator. I really wanted to help, give back in some way. I just didn’t know how.”
One day, Stover picked up a temporary tattoo princess-themed packet as a gift for the little girl. When they met again, the family encouraged him to put it on, and the rest is history.
Transforming a child’s spirit
“The transformation in her spirit was incredible,” said Stover. “This sparked my imagination and I thought, ‘How cool would it be to make these for kids battling cancer on a large scale? How cool would it be to have them made by real tattoo artists?’ Hope vs. Cancer was born from this encounter.”
Today, Hope Vs. Cancer unites tattoo artists from all over the world to raise critical funds for pediatric cancer research. Apart from donating amazing designs, famous tattoo artists who are booked months and years in advance have hopped on board for “flash” fundraisers, where they offer up a chance to win a free full-day tattoo session for donations to Hope Vs. Cancer. As the movement grew, so did the mission. Stover assembled a medical advisory board to guide the foundation’s giving. These “flash” fundraisers have raised hundreds and thousands of dollars that will now make a tremendous impact in the mission to find less-toxic treatments for pediatric cancer.
Recently, Hope vs. Cancer made its first generous $100,000 gift to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. Stover presented the check to Julio C. Barredo, M.D., professor of pediatrics, medicine, and biochemistry & molecular biology, the Toppel Family Endowed Chair in Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, director of Children’s Cancer Programs at Sylvester, and director of the Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at Sylvester.
“The gift from Hope vs. Cancer to our research program will allow us to continue our efforts to develop new and less toxic therapies for children and adolescents with acute leukemia,” Dr. Barredo said. “Our overall goal of curing every child with cancer will only be successful with engagement of our community and organizations such as Hope vs Cancer. This gift complements the extraordinary work Tyler Stover does by organizing and conducting fun activities to bring hope and happiness to children with cancer at our outpatient center.”
A frequent visitor to alex’s place
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Stover had become a welcome presence at alex’s place, Sylvester’s pediatric hematology-oncology clinic. He would often visit to apply temporary tattoos and brighten the kids’ spirits on difficult treatment days, and even visited twice with Miami Heat team members. The relationship between the staff at Sylvester and Stover has blossomed into a friendship. In fact, Stover credits many at Sylvester for encouraging him and believing in his idea from its very beginnings.
“We are investing in the research and the mission at Sylvester because Dr. Barredo is doing incredible research,” Stover said. “But I also want to pay homage to the birthplace of Hope Vs. Cancer. Early on, I had the door shut on my face many times. Sylvester opened the door to me.”
“Tyler always says that we were the first place to take him seriously,” said Leslie Hutchins, M.S., a child life specialist at alex’s place, with a laugh. “But we are like, ‘What took everybody else so long?’”
“From the first time he came to visit, the kids loved it,” she continued. “Immediate smile, immediate awe. They are able to make a choice in a moment when they really don’t have much choice in what’s happening to them, and Tyler has a great way with the kids… he is totally down to earth, friendly and a super creative guy.”
Original pieces of art
Most kids are familiar with temporary tattoos and love them anyways, but the tattoos created by Hope vs. Cancer are truly original pieces of art. Stover is adamant about the quality and standards, as he would like the children to enjoy them for as long as possible. He also makes sure that the designs speak to the kids in a very particular way, with positive imagery that will make them feel empowered. To date, the foundation has sent more than 2 million temporary tattoos worldwide. Stover has many stories from families in the Hope vs. Cancer community that highlight its emotional impact.
“When you peel back the layers of the onion there are psychological and emotional benefits that far exceed the visual understanding of it,” Stover said. “It’s not just a novelty. Visual distraction is medically proven to reduce pain, anxiety and fear.”
Hope vs. Cancer shows no signs of slowing down on the philanthropic side, either. It was primarily built on an online fundraising platform, and Stover was able to continue fundraising throughout the pandemic, raising an impressive amount of money even during the economy’s current climate.
“At heart, I am still driven by that initial encounter,” Stover said. “Signing a check for one hundred thousand feels good, but the look on the kids’ faces when they see the artwork and get to wear the tattoos, lifting them up during their most trying time … that is priceless.”
For more information on Hope vs. Cancer, visit www.hopevscancer.org.