I am currently traveling from Austin, TX to New York City for Stupid Cancer’s 2019 annual fundraiser, Toast. Hello from 35,000 feet.
At the age of 15, I worked as a Pharmacy Technician for the local mom and pop, Islip Pharmacy. A job at CVS followed, then our community hospital. I loved it, however, I knew I wasn’t going to be a Pharmacist when I got a 62 in high school chemistry. Even my failing grade had a bit of creative curving upward. It was obvious that my pharmacy career would have a ceiling and an eventual stopping point. Luckily, I was pretty good on the computer, and tech became my primary focus.
In the fall of 2009, I had a chance encounter with a guest speaker, Cyndy, in my undergrad Grant Writing class. I was in my 5th year, without clear direction on what I was going to do the following May when I graduated. Cyndy spoke of an organization called the “I’m Too Young For This! Cancer Foundation” aka “iy.” Having been directly impacted by my father’s diagnosis in 2005, I was intrigued. I got in trouble for looking at the website during her talk. I was emailing the CEO about an internship.
Around the same time, I applied for a Community Coordinator position for the hospital system where I was working in the pharmacy. It was a marketing job to make the hospital seem more cheerful than it actually was. Despite it being a very junior position and my pending Bachelors in Communications, I did not get the job.
On January 23rd, 2010, I started my internship at iy with founder Matthew Zachary. I was able to use my paid time off at the hospital to work most Fridays at the iy office in lower Manhattan. It was exciting leading my double life as a pharmacy tech and putting a foot in the door at a nonprofit startup. Around April 15th, two weeks before Matthew's twins were due, I received a full-time job offer. I quickly accepted.
I would characterize 2010-2011 as building years for the organization. We knew what we wanted to do. We had a plan to get traction. We just needed everything to click.
In mid-2011, we decided to change the name of the organization from I’m Too Young For This! Cancer Foundation (2007-2011) to Stupid Cancer (2011-Present). Upon doing so, we immediately saw an uptick in Facebook page growth. We also deployed a creative ad that got us hundreds of thousands of Facebook likes. (Read more about that here.)
All of this intent we were putting out into the universe was amplified by us taking our patient conference, the OMG! Cancer Summit for Young Adults, to Las Vegas. We solidified a partnership with Volkswagen and me and John Sabia piled into the tiny coupe and drove west to the coast and circled back to Las Vegas. We would do this a total of five times after for a total of 5 road trips, 35,000 ground miles, and a lot of cancer center tours. (Thank you to GM/Chevy and Michael Savoni for believing in us.)
With limited warning, the Stupid Cancer train was rolling and we did not stop for anyone in our pursuit to deliver our mission of empowering young adults affected by cancer.
Between 2013 and my departure in mid-2016, I enjoyed a lot of personal growth in building out unrealized areas of the organization. I grew the Stupid Cancer Store from a sub $5,000/year revenue stream to over $150K in revenue. Not only were we making money, but our apparel was getting out there. Even on TV. (Thanks, Italia!)
MZ and I also sat through hours of choppy WebEx meetings with our offshore development company and created Instapeer, a mobile app for survivors and caregivers to connect and chat about their experience with cancer. It was the first of its kind.
When I think back to just how different life was from 2010 up to my departure in 2016, there are so many watershed moments for the organization. It was an incredible ride to be on.
Tonight, I am receiving the “Stupid Cancer Recognition Award” from the current Board of Directors and staff. It’s an honor that I could not have imagined receiving when I started out in the non-profit world 10 years ago.
When I think back to my motivation for inquiring about the internship, the feeling of being a helpless caregiver prevails most. Watching dad go through surgeries and chemo. We were bound to the process. Helpless.
If you are feeling helpless, help someone.
– Aung San Suu Kyi
I love this quote.