(BPT) - The cancer journey involves challenges well beyond the medical issues. These emotional, social and logistical difficulties — from transportation struggles to coping with the diagnosis to childcare support — can often make patients and caregivers feel isolated and helpless, searching for ways to make a difference.
Fortunately, many survivors, innovators and entrepreneurs are striving to support people with cancer as they navigate that journey. Astellas Oncology encourages and celebrates those efforts to tackle everyday challenges in cancer care beyond medicine with its fifth annual C3 “Changing Cancer Care” Prize.
This year's winners developed new approaches to support people impacted by cancer, from the onset of their first symptoms throughout the recovery and healing process. They show that by offering cancer patients and their caregivers hope through support, resources and information, change is possible.
Here are the stories of the three winners and their inspiring ideas.
Grand Prize Winner
Dr. Omolola Salako, an oncologist from Lagos, Nigeria, will receive a $100,000 grant and resources to advance her winning idea: a groundbreaking web and mobile app to connect Nigerian cancer patients with specialists and hospitals — along with a supportive community of survivors.
After her sister died from advanced kidney cancer, Salako was driven to improve the accessibility of care in Nigeria for others touched by cancer.
"Cancer is a public health crisis in Nigeria, where the ratio of a clinical oncologist to new cancer patients is extremely low and cancer death rates are high," said Dr. Salako. "I see this firsthand as an oncologist. The Oncopadi app navigates cancer patients and caregivers from the comfort of their home, to the clinic and back home."
With those goals in mind, Salako developed Oncopadi, a platform for patients to access information about symptoms and screening, to find doctors, counselors and medical resources, plus to connect with other patients and survivors for support.
"Our mission is to demystify cancer," said Salako. "Avoidance of care means that many Nigerian cancer patients die. We can save more lives if we detect and treat cancer earlier."
Thanks to the C3 Prize, Salako will expand her app to reach more patients in Nigeria and other countries, providing free access to a cancer coaching program that educates, engages and improves cancer patients' experience.
Innovation Prize Winners
Each winner will receive a $50,000 grant and resources, along with tools to help them develop and advance their ideas.
Dr. Valeria Arango Vélez from Medellin, Colombia, is a medical doctor — and cancer survivor. She developed a mind-body therapy app called Healing Presents, using scientifically proven mind-body techniques to help people cope with the emotional challenges of the cancer journey. These therapies help patients enhance the relaxation response of the body, to improve their quality of life and support the healing process.
Healing Presents is the first and only app created for each moment of the cancer journey, from diagnosis through recovery, to address specific emotional needs patients have at each stage. The apps address challenges including dealing with pain, insomnia, stress and physical changes during the treatment and healing processes.
"The app uses methods including mindfulness, music therapy, guided breathing and meditation to practice before, during and after treatment under a doctor’s care to help with specific moments of the cancer journey," said Vélez. "Using these techniques can help improve patients' quality of life as well as treatment effectiveness."
Vélez hopes to expand use of the app to more patients, including low-income patients, and to translate it into Portuguese.
Lisa McKenzie from New Orleans, Louisiana, is the founder of You Night Empowering Events. McKenzie witnessed up close the challenging emotional journey of cancer through two good friends. In response, she developed an organization to help address the emotional challenges of the cancer journey and, in 2020 during the pandemic, she created a virtual story-crafting program to empower those with cancer.
Through McKenzie's program and Story Crafting course, people are empowered to articulate their life’s journey through key experiences, finding inner strength and remembering they are far more than their cancer diagnosis.
You can watch the full C3 Prize "We Can Change Cancer Care" event, where the three winners pitched their ideas to a panel of expert judges on YouTube. Learn more about the three innovators and sign up for updates at www.C3Prize.com.