As a 40-year-old, young and fit and in the prime of my corporate career as a global strategy partner in a great firm, learning that I had cancer, and facing into my morbidity, was a confronting process. There was no history of cancer in my family. I was incredibly fit and active and now I was suddenly having a conversation with a stranger about the probability of me living or dying. Fuck you cancer.
The best way to describe cancer is an analogy of bankruptcy. Imagine if you worked all your life, was not extravagant, saved your money, and on the eve of retirement, there is a knock at your door telling you that you have lost all your savings. You are bankrupt and they are not sure why. That's cancer. No dialogue. No preparation. No forewarning; just a decision from someone, somewhere that you are up. A hugely disempowering experience. That’s what kept coming back to me as I was told I had cancer and in the days that followed, I have been robbed.
With three adorable children, and a loving partner, the unfairness staggered me. I was now in a world where people were speaking a foreign language. It was like I’d gone back in time. The fact that someone assumed they would own my body and my cancer experience, without a dialog with me, was a breathtaking concept. In a world of technology and amazing medical breakthroughs, I was at a loss that it was up to a local hospital to determine the appropriate experience for a cancer sufferer. It was paper based, fragmented and all in all quite a dispassionate induction.
Where I come from, you pitch for work, you don’t assume work. Imagine if I turned up to a client and said “Don’t worry about asking anyone else to pitch, I’ll take it from here, I am the best person for this job.” Yet here was some guy my age, telling me that he was going to be the rightful owner of my body and cheque book. Imagine if I advised a client and after they paid my fee, saying, “If you have any questions, here are some brochures and a link to a website, or I might be able to fit you in some time in the future…you’ll be fine.” Fuck you cancer.
For the health system, it was paramount that meetings were lined up that did not inconvenience the specialist. Meanwhile, I was freaking out what to do with my one-year-old, my three-year-old, and my teenage daughter during this incredibly emotional time. I was shepherded into a system fragmented, technologically bereft and horribly inefficient to navigating these disconnected pillars. It took an enormous amount of energy...oh, and did I mention I had cancer and was in a bit of pain?
This doesn’t diminish the great work of the specialists. My loyalty and support to them is extensive, but their efforts had nothing to do with the incompetence of the system. I was simply at a loss that there was no default experience from the time of diagnosis for something so personal, confronting and time-consuming in one’s life. The need for an end-to-end experience was just like a beam of light. There are moments in ones life when clarity falls upon them with such heaviness and clarity. The need for a patient revolution within cancer was simply glaring.
I was taught these new words...I was a patient. What is that? I was also taught, if I was really, really, good, I would be a survivor. Last time I checked, the definition of a survivor was "one that is of some function or is of some use." To me, that just wasn’t a convincing customer value proposition. We needed a new word for survivor and we needed a new experience for the sufferer.
- Justin McLean, Founder, Thrivor
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