Cancer doesn't have a face until it's your face or that of someone you know.
Three years ago, my friend and business partner, Mailet Lopez, was diagnosed with breast cancer and she -- like anyone who has been diagnosed -- felt scared and alone. She had the love and support of family and friends, but she only found true solace when she literally bumped into a woman who had experienced everything she was about to go through. Mailet contends that it was this connection that gave her the edge she needed during her courageous and ultimately successful battle with the disease.
Having survived cancer in part through the help and altruism of a stranger, Mailet began to imagine a mechanism that could help others find their own connections by matching experiences. She came to me early on with broad strokes of the idea, and it soon became clear that this was something worthy of throwing the weight of our agency's creative and technical might behind. Since I had lost my father-in-law and a dear friend to cancer (both in the same year), this reinforced to me the need for an online resource focused on making connections that included supporters as well. In the end, we just thought it was our obligation to make a difference.
When someone is diagnosed with something like cancer, the first place people tend go to for answers is the Internet. The problem is that there is so much information out there -- and most of the time it's just too overwhelming. We set out to build a platform that allows for the flow of information to be channeled through people and connections. Our thesis was that the human experience of cancer is something that is easily accessible or tied to an individual.
After almost a year of intense development, we at Squeaky Wheel Media are proud to have recently unveiled what we believe to be a game changer: IHadCancer.com, a new kind of social support network focused on connecting fighters, survivors and supporters with one another to make it easy to share their unique experiences.
Since I Had Cancer was incubated at Squeaky Wheel, we were able to harness our experience with relational databases, interface design and the best social media practices to develop an engine that would promote adoption and sharing.
Members register, create profiles and share as much -- or as little -- as they wish, and we encourage them to connect with one another. Currently, the social engine finds and suggests members who share your cancer type as well as anyone near you with whom you may want to connect; but users are also free to browse the community. Upon connecting with other members, you are given access to everything they wish to share within their circle (from treatment and resources to journal entries about and photos of their experiences).
We also introduced a way for people to address cancer directly. In the Dear Cancer section, members can send a message to cancer telling it exactly how they feel. We are excited at how popular this section has become and feel that it provides our members with a useful portal in which they can vent their anger and frustration with the disease.
I am very proud of the entire Squeaky team, which has worked very hard to get to this point -- but I am even more proud of my business partner. As a small agency owner, she was able to recognize our strengths, couple them with a good idea and take a stab at potentially changing the world. Yes, it may sound like hyperbole; but, to be frank, if it changes even one life, then we succeeded.