A big welcome back to WarOnCancer
When This Is MedTech interviewed Fabian Bolin as he was undergoing leukaemia treatment in 2015, we knew this guy was a force to be reckoned with. Now fully recovered, he wants to tackle the issue of mental health by creating the world’s largest social network for cancer patients.
From the start, Fabian made it clear that he didn’t want anyone’s pity. Nevertheless, that’s what he got. “Everyone starts to treat you like a victim. Friends stop calling you, or they call you way too much. Healthcare staff speak to you as a patient rather than with you as a person. The media and even charities often focus on the negative aspects of cancer. You can barely go out for a walk without people looking at you differently,” he explains to us in a new interview. “To a large extent, patients of today live in a climate coloured by cancer phobia. What is boils down to is self-worth. When you have cancer, it gets completely wiped out.”
Instead of simply complaining, Fabian, along with long-term friend Sebastian Hermelin, decided to do something about it. The result was a blog platform launched in 2016 called WarOnCancer, where people affected by cancer could tell their story and connect with others. Throughout his entire treatment Fabian had blogged about his experience, giving details about all the medical procedures that were happening, but also talking about his mental state, including depression. What he found was that this form of storytelling was incredibly therapeutic.
Fast-forward to today and WarOnCancer has evolved into a tech enterprise whose mission is to improve mental health for everyone affected by cancer. The main concept of sharing stories is still there, but it’s morphed into an app with a twist. “Storytelling is a huge driver of self-worth,” says Fabian. “Between 30-50% of cancer patients suffer from severe stress and about 25% have clinical depression, but there are no health apps that address this. We want our app to help people regain their sense of self.”
Here’s the twist: This free app is more than a social network for cancer – by uniting the patient community at large, WarOnCancer aims to advance scientific research into new diagnoses and treatments. “One of the main reasons for losing your self-worth is not having a sense of purpose,” Fabian points out. “As a cancer patient, you’re not able to function in society, which can make you feel worthless.” The app, which is onboarding its first users this month, aims to solve that problem.
In the future, it will allow patients to contribute to scientific research by sharing their health data with life sciences companies, in a fully transparent way. “About 95% of people are more than willing to share their data, but they want to understand why. It gives people a sense of purpose and therefore improves mental health if they can become aware of the impact their data is making, for example, knowing their contribution may lead to new treatments that could increase survival rates.”
Another way in which WarOnCancer is aiding cancer research is through a clever Google-type search engine. Every time somebody does their keyword search there, the money earned through ad income goes to the World Cancer Research Fund. “This raises money in a way that doesn’t require us to use the traditional fear-mongering strategy. It’s a stigma killer and it’s going to alter cancer research fundraising,” says Fabian.
Ultimately, his vision is “for everyone with cancer to be treated as humans and seen that way”. It aligns perfectly with the World Cancer Day launch of a three-year campaign themed “I Am and I Will”, which is all about empowering people to make a personal commitment to reduce the impact of cancer.
“This may sound strange, but several times a week I wake up thankful that I was diagnosed with cancer,” Fabian admits. “It’s given me a whole new perspective and has led to so much good. It’s a very small price to pay – 900 days of chemo was definitely worth it.”
To follow our previous coverage of Fabian’s story, see Part 1 and Part 2 of “Actor Fabian Bolin (aka the Leukemia Warrior talks about his #WarOnCancer” and “Make way for a new global cancer movement”.
Photo credits: Photema – Photography & Film Production