Pop Culture for a Cause: Exclusive Interview with Cancer Gets LOST’s Jo Garfein


Jo Garfein, executive director and co-founder of non-profit charity organization Cancer Gets LOST, knows that pop culture and fans have the power to bring positivity and change to the world. She’s seen it happen before, along with CGL co-founder Jared Wong.

And this weekend, Cancer Gets LOST is opening their latest auction to raise funds for charity.

For more information about Cancer Gets LOST and to learn more about how to participate in their auction opening (and all the cool items available!) on Aug. 15, check out CancerGetsLOST.org or follow them on Twitter @CancerGetsLOST.

How did you come up with the idea for Cancer Gets LOST and the auctions? How did it all get started? And where do the proceeds go?

In a nutshell, a dear friend was diagnosed with brain cancer. And I felt like I needed to do SOMETHING, but I wasn’t sure exactly what.

A short time later while attending the official LOST auction in LA in 2010, I had an epiphany. I wondered…what if I could combine my social media following, love for pop culture and desire to support philanthropic endeavors to make an actual, tiny difference in the world of cancer research?

Together with my friend and fellow LOST fan Jared, we ambitiously created Cancer Gets LOST and decided to donate proceeds from each auction to a different cancer organization every year. Because we truly want ALL types of cancer to get lost.

Back when LOST was airing, I had a little theory blog that achieved moderate success and garnered attention from people that worked on the show. So when CGL hosted a live fundraising webcast and party in Los Angeles in 2012, many of the LOST actors and writers participated! At the same time, we hosted our first online auction of almost all LOST items. CGL wound up raising a significant amount of money for the National Brain Tumor Society in honor of my friend Jackie, who passed away shortly before that auction.

In 2014, we hosted our second online auction, again featuring primarily LOST items but also a nice selection of other memorabilia. We simultaneously hosted a small onsite live auction at the fan event LOST 2014 in Hawaii. CGL raised an incredible amount for the American Cancer Society with those two auctions! As was the case with the first auction, we were stunned and thrilled. So we are very excited to launch our 2016 online charity auction on Monday, because CGL will be donating 100% of the net proceeds to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer.

LOST iconic Desmond & Penny photo (a copy; not original), signed by Henry Ian Cusick and Sonya Walger. Available in 2016 charity auction.
LOST iconic Desmond & Penny photo (a copy; not original), signed by Henry Ian Cusick and Sonya Walger. Available in 2016 charity auction.

From all of your tweets regarding the auction, it seems like you’ve been working on this particular auction for quite some time. Can you tell us a little about what the process of putting together an auction like this is like, how long it takes, and what kind of time goes into it? 

We choose to host major online charity auctions every two years rather than every year, because it not only gives fans the time to recoup and save up for the next auction, it allows me to take the time to attend events and complete item acquisitions with autographs! I also study show trends and fan interest in specific types of memorabilia extensively, in order to assess what’s hot and might be popular in our future auctions.

Networking with showrunners, producers, writers, actors, studios, networks, PR, managers and agents for item donations and signatures is a non-stop, year-round process, and one that I enjoy immensely. While a majority of my connections begin organically online via Twitter and email, a large number of CGL donations and connections are made in person at events like Comic-Con, Walker Stalker Con, and ATX Television Festival. In addition, fans from all over the world have started to donate more items and autographs that they purchase at events, which is terrific and very appreciated!

Being as the name of the charity is Cancer Gets LOST it’s no mystery that you’re a LOST fan. Can you tell us about some of the items you have from LOST, and other shows, that you’re particularly excited about?

I am forever grateful for the amazing personal connections created when LOST was on the air. From the tremendously interactive online fan community to the lovely humans that used to work behind and in front of the camera on LOST – all continue to contribute spectacular items to CGL. And not just memorabilia from LOST, but from all of the new shows that they work on! I remain humbled and motivated by this level of support and enthusiasm.

In our 2016 CGL charity auction, we have fantastic LOST items like signed scripts from the Pilot and The End, as well as everybody’s favorite episode – The Constant. Thanks to generous donations from fans, LOST showrunner Damon Lindelof, actor Jorge Garcia and Supervising Producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach, the CGL auction also features items like a very rare iPod that was given to the cast and crew of LOST by series co-creators J.J. Abrams and Lindelof when Season 1 wrapped!

Of course, the biggest surprise in our 2016 CGL charity auction is the sheer number of items from The 100. It is no secret that I am close to many of the writers/producers (and have been for years, long before The 100), and now some of the cast and crew; every single person involved with the show has been so kind to CGL! Almost all of The 100 items in our auction were signed by the cast, and I am so grateful for their genuine desire to contribute to the cause.

Jared, who co-founded CGL, works for Walker Stalker Con and Fan Fest in his spare time – so we have quite an abundance of signed items from The Walking Dead! And as you can imagine, TWD fandom is very enthusiastic, which we love.

The 100 script cover from episode 1x06, signed by Bob Morley, Chris Larkin, Devon Bostick, Eliza Taylor, Henry Ian Cusick, Paige Turco and Richard Harmon. Available in 2016 auction.
The 100 script cover from episode 1×06, signed by Bob Morley, Chris Larkin, Devon Bostick, Eliza Taylor, Henry Ian Cusick, Paige Turco and Richard Harmon. Available in 2016 auction.

How many items and shows are included in total?

In this auction, we have 453 items total! I am honestly astonished by the fact that we are able to feature auction items from 61 shows and 18 films, when we started with only LOST. The growth of CGL in just a short period of time has been remarkable to experience.

Have you seen a lot of requests and excitement for/from any particular shows or fandoms?

Besides The 100 and LOST fans, we definitely hear from a wide variety of fandoms when it comes to charity auction item requests; from Star Wars to The Walking Dead and now Fear the Walking Dead, Once Upon a Time, BSG, Firefly, Orphan Black, Fringe, Doctor Who, Supernatural and Game of Thrones! Sense a theme? Without a doubt, our most popular items are from the sci-fi/fantasy genre.

You have a large following on Twitter and are known for being an active television and film fan, but even more than that, a positive voice and presence, in general. How do you keep such a positive attitude, and what advice would you give to others about social media, fandom and community?

The truth is that I rely entirely on perspective when it comes to social media. Like everyone else, I’m human, sensitive and flawed; I’ve made errors in judgment with tweets, and failed to manage expectations from certain fandoms.

That being said, it is essential for me to keep my eye on what matters the most: channeling all fandoms toward the greater good. Because I don’t have cancer, but so many friends and loved ones do. It touches every single person out there, online and in real life.

I feel strongly compelled to encourage others online to channel their energy toward something positive, to try and make a small dent in this world. So I approach my online presence as if I’m standing on a corner at the intersection of pop culture and philanthropy, holding up a giant sign that says This Way! The hope is that a large number of people that feel very passionately about their favorite shows will follow me down the road paved with positive intent.

Orphan Black one-of-a-kind original comic book panel by artist Cat Staggs. Available in 2016 auction.
Orphan Black one-of-a-kind original comic book panel by artist Cat Staggs. Available in 2016 auction.

How would you describe your own taste in television and characters? What are some of your favorite shows and characters who’ve inspired you and moved you?

My favorite shows of all time are LOST, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad, BSG and Sons of Anarchy. Clearly, I am drawn to darkness on-screen! I do tend to enjoy sci-fi or supernatural-tinged shows more than any other genre. Admittedly, I am obsessed with shows that appeal to my conspiracy-theory brain; shows that require deeper/philosophical/critical thinking, that do not provide obvious answers and that create unique rabbit holes for me to explore. Current favorites: The Americans, The Leftovers, Mr. Robot, Orphan Black, Sense 8 and The 100.

It will come as no surprise that I am inspired by strong, smart female characters on television. From Scully on The X-Files to Cosima on Orphan Black, Clarke on The 100, Juliet on LOST, Starbuck and Laura Roslin on BSG (and many more), there is something about brilliant, flawed, stubborn, fiercely loyal women that I aspire to capture even an ounce of, spirit-wise.

Of all the items donated to the auctions you’ve organized, what would you say are the top items that you geeked out or gushed over, that really stand out in your memory?

For our last auction, I bought an authentic piece of the LOST Oceanic 815 airplane wing on eBay. Seriously. It was gigantic, and so heavy that we had to transport it in a truck. We cut it into 8 pieces and sold them individually in the auction. My little $150 investment raised $5500 for charity! A small piece of that wing now sits in my home office, a daily reminder that not only can a television show change your life, but to stay the course and continue inspiring fans to dream big.

In our current 2016 CGL charity auction, I am particularly excited about the experiences kindly donated by Sesame Street. Because this auction benefits a children’s cancer organization, it means the world to me to be able to feature items that appeal to parents and kids.

Authentic feather from Big Bird's costume, custom framed and donated by Sesame Street. Available in 2016 auction.
Authentic feather from Big Bird’s costume, custom framed and donated by Sesame Street. Available in 2016 auction.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get involved in charity work (or even with Cancer Gets LOST, specifically)?

Generally speaking, I would suggest that fans narrow down their interest in charity work, whether it be environmental, mental health, homelessness, animal rights, body positivity, cancer research, etc. – and then start following related organizations on social media. If people are seeking hands-on experiences, look up local charities seeking assistance with small tasks or ones hosting volunteer days on weekends. There are myriad opportunities for people to donate their time, at no cost, and make an actual difference in the lives of others.

As for CGL, the easiest way to assist us is to help spread the word about our organization and fundraising auctions/events by retweeting and sharing links. Ongoing item contributions are also encouraged and appreciated! CGL would not exist without the fans that support us, both virtually and via donations. That I am extremely grateful is a massive understatement.

Looking ahead, do you have more auctions planned or in mind? What can we look forward to in the future from Cancer Gets LOST and from you?

Next year, CGL is hosting an onsite silent auction at LOST 2017 in Hawaii, and we have one or two other small events in the works that I am unable to reveal at this time! But we are already working hard on our big 2018 online auction as we speak.

As for me personally, in addition to running CGL in every spare moment of my life (big not-so-secret is that I have a day/desk job too) – I am quite looking forward to Unity Days 2017, which is a new fan convention dedicated to The 100. Taking place in Vancouver in January, I am the official moderator of all actor panels! Knowing a few of the cast personally that will be participating ensures that it will be a very entertaining experience for all involved, and I’m honored to have been selected for this role. One of my favorite aspects of attending many events like this and on behalf of CGL is the opportunity to meet fellow fans, and this con is shaping up to be incredibly fun.

Before we end the interview, Caitlin – I just want to thank you for your interest in covering Cancer Gets LOST, for helping to promote our upcoming charity auction! I am profoundly appreciative for all of the ongoing CGL support and donations from fellow fans.

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