Skip to main content
Celebration of Service

Red Noses Make Cancer a Laughing Matter

José Carlos Izaguirre Zavala uses laughter as medicine with young cancer patients

Of course, cancer is not a joke, but numerous studies have shown that laughter reduces pain and allows us to tolerate discomfort. Arguably, it may play a role in healing.

While doctors and nurses certainly are the ones who treat cancer patients, José Carlos Izaguirre Zavala, an IBM IT specialist in Guadalajara, Mexico, says, “As volunteers we can inject humor, and bring smiles and joy to the patients’ faces, and give them a few hours away from their illness.”

He adds, “Maybe in some way, laughing will help them get better.”

Since 2010, IBM volunteers have worked with an organization officially named Campeones de la Vida AC, but which everyone simply calls, Nariz Roja (the Red Nose). The volunteers, wearing something similar to a clown’s red nose, visit young cancer patients in Guadalajara at least once a week with the goal of distracting them from their ailments and helping them have some fun.

“It looks silly, which is exactly the point,” says José Carlos of the foam red noses. “It’s a small thing, but it gives you permission not to be so serious, and definitely lightens the mood in a hospital room.”

Having fun takes planning

Still, fun takes planning. Founded in Guadalajara in early 2010, Red Nose has grown to a network of over 60,000 people using social media, with hundreds of volunteers spread across several states in Mexico, including Mexico City DF, Durango, and Tlaxcala. In addition to providing psychological support and play in hospitals, Red Nose supports material assistance and housing, and leads a significant blood donation campaign for cancer patients in public hospitals.

In 2011, IBM awarded a Catalyst Grant to the rapidly expanding foundation to continue enhancing the organizational and management principles necessary to succeed over the long term.

Volunteers have helped align realistic objectives and metrics with the organization’s mission and vision, while also creating detailed descriptions of programs and services. They’ve also assisted with building the organization’s fundraising program, and everyday practical matters like transportation to and from hospitals.

“IBM volunteers have shared their business and operational skills by collaborating in the strategic planning of Nariz Roja,” says José Carlos. “Bringing some fun to these children is serious business.”

No prescription needed

Maintaining contact with Red Nose’s growing volunteer pool will be vital to keep momentum strong, and IBM team members have taken on registering volunteers who participate in Red Nose’s events, while also providing logistical support at those events.

For El Día Del Niño (Children’s Day) in April, IBM employees coordinated Red Nose’s event in a Guadalajara hospital that saw more than 400 volunteers distribute hundreds of toys to nearly 300 sick children.

From that event José Carlos recalls, “One little boy came and told us that it was the best day of his life. Wow, that's what makes it worthwhile.”

José Carlos, whose parents both had cancer, joined with Alejandro Barbosa, the founder and director of Red Nose, to personally appeal and recruit volunteers from IBM’s technology campus in Guadalajara. The turnout on El Día Del Niño was beyond their expectations.

The volunteer opportunity with Red Nose is powerful, according to José Carlos, because “everyone wants to fight against cancer, especially when it is in children, and this is a way to fight with a smile and a positive attitude. For this we don’t need to have a prescription because the medicine is from the heart.”

“A nine year old boy told me that he was already very sick and thought he would die, but that he would always come with a red nose to encourage others to keep bringing smiles to the hospitals,” says José Carlos. “These are the words that keep us going. I think we all need to provide our support and commitment to improve the quality of life of each patient.”

IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.