"Aloha" may be the perfect word to summarize my initiation into the cancer world. As soon as I heard the words, “you have cancer,” I said goodbye to the comfortable, healthy life I had taken for granted and said hello to a new one full of doctors’ appointments and experiences that I never expected.
It was uncharted territory. Even though my family and friends were there for me, they didn’t truly understand what it meant to have cancer. I was bombarded with people telling me that they knew someone, who knew someone, whose best friend’s uncle knew someone…who died of cancer. I couldn’t find anyone who really understood what it meant to be a young, professional woman with cancer. Until, that is, I met the stranger who changed my life.
This woman, who I affectionately title my "guardian angel," had just finished treatment for the exact same type of cancer that I had. She opened up to answer all the questions I had been dying to ask and had the personal insight my family and doctors couldn't give me. The honesty of her story completely altered my relationship with my own cancer and my outlook on surviving it.
That moment, brief and free and honest, was the inspiration from which IHadCancer.com grew. I knew that we needed more than just statistics and inspirational quotes to get us through the fight of our life, so I was able to leverage my agency, Squeaky, to build a platform to support all of us affected by cancer because, as our tagline conveys, the sharing of experiences leads to strength. The insight of anyone affected by cancer has an authentic value that can make a defining difference in someone's fight with cancer.
From the moment it launched, I had a vision of the site connecting cancer fighters and survivors in the New York City area the same way that I had met my personal hero. What I didn’t expect was just how far it would spread. Within a few hours we had registrations from all over the nation, and then all over the world, coming to participate in our community. While we initially launched with three categories: fighter, survivors, and supporters - caregivers reached out to us on their loved ones' behalf and then asked if there was any space for them. So, we expanded again to embrace the entire cancer community.
I quickly realized that this cancer world was much, much bigger than anything I had originally conceived. I saw that the network of people affected by cancer was a deeply intricate web, and that everyone needs to have a seat at the table because we all have something important to offer.
However, there are still some places we haven’t reached yet - aloha, Hawaii! We'd like for you to consider this your formal invitation to join the club you probably don't want but will most definitely need if you've been diagnosed with cancer. Even though the island has some of the lowest cancer rates in the nation, nearly five thousand Hawaii residents will be diagnosed with cancer this year. Having a lower cancer rate than the rest of country is fantastic, but it can make the cancer world seem even more isolating than it does from the mainland where opportunities to have a chance encounter like I did exist.
At IHadCancer, we truly believe that the power of the individual story is paramount to helping more cancer fighters become cancer survivors. We want to tell the stories of the fighters, caregivers, supporters, and, especially, the survivors. Because cancer doesn’t end when treatment does - no matter what type of cancer you have or where you may live, there are some issues that affect us all (chemo brain, PTSD, the fear of recurrence, just to name a few). So please, if you’ve been affected by cancer, we invite you to share your story with us today and join our IHadCancer ʻohana.
Mailet Lopez is the Founder and CEO of IHadCancer, Co-founder of Squeaky Media in New York City, and a breast cancer survivor.
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