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What Connects Us in Times of Crisis? The Importance of Social Support During Cancer

While it may feel difficult during this time, being present and finding connections are more important than ever.

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Now more than ever, the world is experiencing feelings of isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Between quarantining, social distancing and a heightened awareness on spreading germs — the new world we are living in is all too familiar for someone going through cancer. Particularly for young adults, the isolation experienced while in the hospital is challenging and is now amplified with the strict rules imposed because of COVID-19. Many hospitals limit the inpatient caregivers to only one, which is difficult for both caregiver and patient, and no visitors or siblings are allowed, making these young adults feel alone more than ever before.

As a mother of a child who battled cancer, I know these feelings all too well — which is why I founded the b-present Foundation, which aims to improve social support so no young adult faces cancer alone.

Continuing my Daughter’s Legacy by Founding b-Present
The inspiration for b-present began with my late daughter, Kirsten, and her experience battling leukemia for seven months as a 19-year-old. Her story is a familiar one told time and again by young adults with cancer. Friends rally at diagnosis, but then quickly fade at a time when they are needed most. To the young adult with cancer, it is isolating and can feel like friends have moved on. Friends who want to be there to support may lack the experience and feel awkward or embarrassed that they do not know what to do. 

In 2017, three of Kirsten’s best friends and supporters joined me in establishing the b-present Foundation, a nonprofit focused on improving the experience of young adults with cancer by amplifying the importance of presence and providing information and tools that empower supporters to be there when it matters most. We are working to provide the resources that we wish we had as part of Kirsten’s support network and ignite a movement among young adults to amplify the importance of presence.

Aiming to Further Change Cancer Care by Applying to the C3 Prize

As a foundation, we’re always looking for ways to impact as many lives as we can. One day in 2018, we came across the Astellas Oncology C3 Prize announcement and immediately saw the unique and exciting opportunity it presented. It was as though the C3 Prize knew our story. I remember reading every line and thinking “Yes, that’s us!” Focused on changing cancer care and seeking solutions beyond medicine, the C3 Prize really resonated with us. We knew we had to apply.

The C3 Prize is a global competition that gives people the chance to apply for one of three grants totaling $200,000 and resources to advance ideas that make a big impact in the cancer community. My winning application focused on expanding the b-there tool, a web-based patient/supporter connection tool designed to ease communication for patients and caregivers. The tool helps to provide updates on the patients and makes asking for, offering and signing up to support the patient simple and easy to manage.

The Astellas Oncology C3 Prize gave us a platform to share our mission with a much broader audience. The more people that understand that their presence has an impact on themselves and others, the more likely they are to be present, inspiring hope and connection during an isolating and difficult time. The Astellas Oncology C3 Prize impacted b-present in several important ways including putting us on the map, giving us resources to improve our technology, increasing our reach, and improving our storytelling. Importantly, with winnings from the Astellas Oncology C3 Prize, we were able to fund important changes to the software and develop the content to make b-there beta available online. 

Feel Empowered and Share Your Life-Changing Idea

Now in its fifth year, the C3 Prize is seeking ideas that ease the burden of the cancer community as it relates to some of the world’s most pressing problems, including the increased burden of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has only added to the complexity of cancer care, creating additional emotional, financial and physical strain for people impacted by cancer and their loved ones.

If you have ever said to yourself “this needs to be fixed,” odds are good that you are not alone. Opportunities to improve or even transform cancer care are all around us. And no idea is too simple. In fact, your idea may be the next big thing that transforms cancer care. The C3 Prize understands the value of innovation that grows out of experience and can provide the resources that help you move your idea forward.

The C3 Prize is not just for tech applicants or complex solutions — it is open to the best ideas that can have great impact on cancer care beyond medicine. Applications are open until September 28, 2020, so I encourage anyone with an idea to submit today at www.C3Prize.com.

While it may feel difficult during this time, being present and finding connections are more important than ever. There is so much uncertainty in the world during times of crisis. However, one thing is certain – we’re all in this together, and we need each other’s support to get through tough times. And who knows, maybe you’ll find you have an idea that can help bring the cancer community together and have a chance to turn that into a reality through the Astellas Oncology C3 Prize.

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