Editor’s note: at the bottom of this post is a link to share your insight. I strongly encourage any and everyone that has something helpful to say to click through and share!
Boaz Gaon is a humorous, humble, and energetic man. The source of this energy, I believe, is the result of the big ideas bouncing around inside of him -- he's written a book, multiple plays, has a decorated career as a journalist, and was involved in the biggest nonviolent protest in the history of Israel. Today, he was excitedly telling me about his new idea.
Boaz had a few precious hours at home that he used to chat with me and be with his wife and children.
"They remember me vaguely," chuckles Boaz. He was due to leave for a week-long trip to visit Seattle, San Francisco, Vancouver, New York, and Tel Aviv to work on MediCope.
MediCope is Boaz's latest big idea: a crowdsourcing app currently helping people with breast cancer. Think Waze, except instead of directions to the mall, MediCope helps you navigate your journey with cancer. The team behind MediCope wants to revolutionize the way people share and access real and personalized information. And their story is engrossing.
It started with Boaz's father. Boaz's father was president of the Israel Cancer Association. About two years into his term he was diagnosed with kidney cancer, followed by CLL (a type of Leukemia), and then with lung cancer. Eight years after his diagnosis, he passed away. Though he fought hard and received wonderful treatment, those eight years were long and difficult.
“This is a systemic problem that requires a systemic answer.
As a caregiver, it was frustrating for Boaz. His family could be called an "ideal cancer family" (an almost oxymoronic phrase): they had resources, access to the best hospitals in the world, and the support of the Israel Cancer Association. Yet they still found themselves stymied by nonclinical questions. They often asked themselves, "How did other people cope with the 90% of being a cancer patient that isn't clinical?"
He wrote about this experience in an Israeli newspaper. To his surprise, many other people wrote in echoing his experience. That's when Boaz realized this is a systemic problem that requires a systemic answer.
While the clinical side was backed with years of research, the nonclinical side was sorely lacking. "The emotional, financial, logistical, and social part of cancer are almost completely uncharted," says Boaz.
When Boaz and the other three founders of MediCope thought about the source of the problem they decided it was two-fold. On one hand, the information was scattered all over the place, with hidden gems everywhere from coffee shop chatter to comment sections on blogs. On the other hand, the information is not all personal or actionable.
"It's rivers of text that isn't personalized," says Boaz. "You have to read a lot of information that just isn't relevant to you." Even if you find some wisdom, there's not guarantee that it's sensitive to your stop on the road to recovery. Search engines and social media don't know if you're before chemo, after chemo, after surgery, or when you were diagnosed.
Their solution is a timeline of the cancer journey that is made unique for each user based on where they are on it. One of the founders, Arik Gilon (who's helping his sister cope with breast cancer), was also a founder of Waze. "He's bringing this whole philosophy of 'let's crowdsource journeys' to the company" Boaz says. "Arik thinks, 'let's figure out a way to show people who are embarking on a journey the way that people who've been there already have navigated,' and it turns out that's incredibly valuable."
"Where we are different from other companies is in two primary places. One is the type of information we are capturing. We call this wisdom, or experience-based knowledge. These are not articles or a scientific attempt to explain a treatment," explains Boaz.
“We have algorithms and machine learning and all those buzzwords...
"These are real things that people talk about and experience as they go through a specific challenge. For example, if you go to our site for breast cancer, you'll find things like how to tell your child you have cancer, how to communicate hair loss to a child, and how a person dealt with nausea. I learned that if you're diagnosed with cancer in California, you're entitled to a disability parking permit." This is the type of information that everyone should know and share, but just wasn't captured until MediCope.
The beautiful part of this is that the community creates it. A percentage of that community moderates the wisdom through a curation platform (similar to Waze, Wikipedia, and other crowdsourcing platforms). The moderator community is made up of nurses, people who have had breast cancer, and people who run breast cancer communities. They are careful to prevent irresponsible material from surfacing.
The other big thing is the personalization aspect. "We have algorithms and machine learning and all those buzzwords that help us create and grow a personalized experience for people on our website," says Boaz. The more you use it, the more MediCope is able to guide you through their content and create an experience that is all about you.
"If you want to get your wig reimbursed from your insurance company, don't call it a wig. Call it a cranial prosthetic.""An hour before chemo put your hands in hot water. It will make your veins more visible and make it easier for the nurse to find them."
Let me leave you with this bit, from Boaz, that can inspire no matter who you are:
“I always say this, and it always sounds a little pretentious in advance, but when you’ve been a writer you’re exposed to this notion that other haven’t learned, and they should: you really can start something from nothing.
Boaz started MediCope as an idea and it is growing into a real, living thing that people interact with and are benefitting from everyday.
If you've got any sort of advice or tidbit of information that you'd like to share with others that are going through what you've been through, please click below. You will be empowering countless others with information that can make someone's day, week, or their entire cancer journey.