Inside story: How a patient got her wish, and a video went viral

August 4, 2015

Photo: Drummer and Ann Trachtenberg

Ann Trachtenberg (center) joked that she wanted to be escorted by a marching band from her final chemotherapy treatment — and she got her wish as the UW Marching Band serenaded her at the UW Carbone Cancer Center.

Photos: Ariel Arneson

My first hint that our UW Carbone Center video had gone viral came early in the morning, when my husband shook me awake to tell me my phones had broken. Both cell phones were dinging, buzzing and skittering around the kitchen table like demented cockroaches.

Video requests were pouring in from Huffington Post and Good Morning America, interview requests from “Fox and Friends” and The Washington Post. For a crazy minute, I was juggling People.com and Buzzfeed and watching as the video went live on Cosmopolitan’s “Sex and Relationships” Web column at the same time as the “Extra Mustard” feature on Sports Illustrated. Oh, and did I a mention the retweet from Katie Couric?

By the time a week had passed, the video on our Facebook page had reached more than 3 million people, with 1.1 million views, 10,500 comments and 15,600 shares — and that’s a low count since we allowed some larger media sites to upload the video directly. Even better, the UW Carbone Cancer Center received 700 new Facebook fans since the posting of the video.

Photo: Ann Trachtenberg

Trachtenberg was taken completely by surprise, and soon became an Internet sensation.

What makes a video go viral? If I could replicate it, I’d be rich. But here are some of the magical ingredients.

First off, we had a wonderful patient, Ann Trachtenberg, who laughingly told her niece, Stephanie Richter, that she wanted to be escorted by a marching band when she finished chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. Stephanie decided to make the dream come true by contacting the University of Wisconsin Badger Marching Band. Julie Nampel, the clinic manager at 1 S. Park St., told UW Carbone’s communications director, Craig Robida, that the band would be coming in case he thought media or social media should cover it. He voted, “Yes!”

We decided against inviting media, because we’d have needed the patient’s permission and that would have wrecked her surprise.

Instead, UW Carbone’s marketing and development assistant, Ariel Arneson, showed up armed with her mom’s Sony digital SLR camera that shoots stills and video. She knows her way around a camera because her mom is a professional photographer – Kimberly Arneson, owner and photographer of K Jay Photos.

Ariel, an Edgewood College senior, is also a social media maven, as this isn’t the only thing of hers that has gone viral. Back in December 2012, Ariel helped orchestrate a social media campaign to get pop star Justin Bieber to meet her friend Aly Wolff, a UW-Oshkosh student from McFarland who was a Carbone patient with liver cancer. In two weeks, the #BiebsmeetAly campaign won 15,000 new fans on Facebook and trended worldwide on Twitter – ultimately resulting in a Dec. 15, 2012, meeting between the two. Aly died the following April, but Ariel remains active in promoting and organizing Aly’s Honky Tonk Hustle, an annual fundraiser that benefits UW Carbone Cancer Center’s neuroendocrine tumor research.

Carbone’s viral video: 1,114,808 views, 77,000 likes, 10,500 comments, 15,600 shares, and 700 new Facebook fans within a week.

On the day of the band video, Ariel got to the 1 S. Park clinic early to figure out her shots. She put the band to one side, so she’d be able to film Ann’s reaction when she walked out the door. She also framed the UW Health banner in most of the shots. Ann and her family members had been instructed to wear Badger red and white for a “last treatment” party upstairs in the clinic.

Then the doors opened, the band broke into “On, Wisconsin” and the camera captured Ann’s surprise and delight. Ariel wasn’t sure if she would be uploading a video or still photos to the UW Carbone Facebook site, so she shot both. She hurried back to her office at the UW Carbone Cancer Center, edited a combination of video and still photos, had it approved and uploaded in under two hours. Within an hour of it going live, as Ariel and Craig watched the numbers climb, they realized this wasn’t going to be any average Facebook post; they put the other social media content scheduled for that week on hold.

The rest is Internet history. I’ve watched it a dozen times and cried during most of them. What strikes me is the love between Ann and her daughter Lindsey Trachtenberg, who is wearing the red dress. With her bald head, Ann is an “everywoman” cancer patient. And Lindsey embodies the caring of family members who long to help in any way they can. The woman who comes flying out the door in purple scrubs with a camera is UW Health nurse Kelly Jones, who has been there for an uncountable number of chemotherapy patients.

Other clinic employees,patients, and Ann’s family and friends gathered on the sidewalk and clapped along. It seemed like those wonderful Wisconsin band members were playing for every patient who has traveled the long, hard road of cancer, and for every nurse and doctor who has been there with them.

In that sense, the video shows a moment that happens every day in our clinics.

We were just lucky enough to be there to capture it — complete with soundtrack.

Susan Lampert Smith is a senior media specialist with UW Health Public Affairs.