“You have cancer!” These were the scariest three words I have ever heard and they were uttered to me in March of 2008 over the cellphone while I was on vacation. My initial reaction was…well, it was this:
“What? Did he just say that? Me? Seriously? How is this possible?” Which then quickly turned into, “I do not want to die!”
Clearly this was unexpected news. I was at the top of my game in my field running a successful agency and living a healthy lifestyle. I ate right and was rather young for breast cancer (I was only 33 years old). So why me? Why now? And what’s next? Well, what was next was in fact pretty arduous but today I’m a proud survivor thanks to a series of fortunate events including an accidental meeting and an enlightening conversation with a total stranger.
This stranger (my angel) had been through a very similar experience and she introduced me to some alternative approaches that would augment my surgery. In some cases I went against traditional approaches even when my doctors warned my chances of getting cancer again were 60% if I stayed the course. Now, my experience isn’t everyone’s but it can most definitely help someone. That’s the point—and it’s also why I’m sharing this on SocialTimes.
For me, the eureka was aligning my experience with cancer and my experience as a digital entrepreneur (I co-founded Squeaky Wheel Media, an award winning web development agency). Having both successfully survived cancer and having built a career in digital communications, I recognized that not only did I have a unique opportunity but I also felt that I had a responsibility to take a stab at changing the world—or at the very least create real change for people affected by cancer.
The power of technology and the acceptance of social sharing online have created a perfect opportunity to match experiences. My fate, good fortune or luck shouldn’t have to be tied to a chance encounter when the technology exists to harness these experiences and fuel connections.
And so, I Had Cancer (ihadcancer.com) was born. I Had Cancer is a social support network for anyone who’sbeen affected by cancer. It’s a place where fighters, survivors and supporters can connect with others in similar situations and exchange valuable information or simply receive real support. I Had Cancer is only two months old and already has thousands of members in over 63 countries who are actively making life changing connections every day. This is being done organically by the users who are helping each other and connecting to build the community.
Ok, so why should you care? Because chances are you might be one of the 1.5 million people whom will be diagnosed this year alone in the United States. 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will be diagnosed at some point in their lives. These numbers show you that it isn’t 6 degrees of separation it’s much closer than that. Each experience is valuable and that value is in helping others benefit from your story. For those affected by cancer, the altruism and support is prevalent—we just made it easy for people to connect.
Below is a typical example of the type of emails I frequently receive; I feel it really defines our mission:
“I want to thank all of you for this website. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer this past June after a bladder stone operation. I live in a small town with no support group and my family is 800 miles away. This site has provided me with a wonderful support group of men like me who have or had cancer and can tell me what to expect. The unknown is the hardest part of facing any problem and this site has helped me so much.” – Danny
In the time that I was diagnosed, treated and recovered from cancer— I learned a great deal. Most of all, I learned that you just can’t do it alone and trusting others was crucial to my survival. I discovered that leveraging others’ experience can be just as important as consulting with a health care professional. I realized that speaking with someone who has been through what I was going to go through was both incredibly informative and cathartic. But perhaps what I have come to truly appreciate is the value of the human experience, the kindness and support within us all and that the true power of “social” lives in the connections we make.
In the words of Steve Jobs, I had to “think differently” when it comes to dealing with cancer. I wanted to build abetter resource for cancer fighters, survivors and their supporters. I hope I have.
Mailet Lopez is a cancer survivor who founded IHadCancer.com—a social support network for cancer fighters, survivors and supporters focused on creating connections that help people deal with cancer peer to peer. A Cuban exile and digital pioneer Mailet is also co-founder of the award winning digital agency Squeaky Wheel Media which was formed in 2001 and is both an Ad Age Small Agency of the year recipient and INC 5000 fastest growing company.