The founder of an East County nonprofit that helps cancer patients around the nation is ramping up for another wave of adventure.
Following its first-year success, Adventure Therapy Foundation — which opened its doors last January with a mission to give cancer patients a family vacation — will roll out a social-media platform through an app named My Cancer Card.
Founder and Oakley resident Lauren Huffmaster is building a team of volunteers to develop the app she said will revolutionize the cancer experience. Similar to NextDoor, My Cancer Card will serve those with cancer by connecting them to their local community through geolocation. Anyone with a new cancer diagnosis will have free access to the app.
“In a perfect world, when someone’s diagnosed, they will be given a flier for My Cancer Card,” said Huffmaster. “With one glance they can put in their zip, their age group, their diagnosis, and instantly see that, ‘hey, in my city, there are 30 other young moms with breast cancer,’ or ‘in my city there are seven to 10 nonprofits that can help me,’ or ‘in my city there are people who need help today or people who would help me today.’”
For Huffmaster, a young mother of three who was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, she felt the only apps available for cancer patients were built by people with an outside perspective — medically based, but wanting in the way of emotional care for the individual. From the families she’s met with through Adventure Therapy, she’s identified a common theme: there are residual feelings of isolation, fear and anxiety and a broken identity after treatment has ended.
“Yes, when you’re diagnosed, you have a year of medical issues, but after those medical issues, statistics show there are at least five years where you’re experiencing fear, anxiety and depression and post-traumatic stress, but no one does anything about that,” she said. “Once you’re done with treatment, you’re kind of just done ... With this platform, you can invest in people — people who are behind you in treatment or those in front of you — and all of a sudden, you can become something new. We’re giving the world an opportunity to feed into people who need it.”
The app would be tailored to the individual, who, upon download, will be asked to identify their main fears and goals as someone with a cancer diagnosis. Not all goals must be cancer-centric. Some might wish to pursue fitness or an organic lifestyle or join a book club, and the app will connect them to businesses based on their interests.
To make it free for patients, Huffmaster hopes to secure subscriptions from nonprofits that are servicing the community. The businesses can then promote their services and events.
With a team of volunteers behind her, she hopes to launch My Cancer Card this year.
Huffmaster happened to meet one of her lead volunteers through a serendipitous moment at the grocery store, when James Creston, 36-year-old Stage 4 cancer patient, was waiting in line to purchase his organic greens, and Huffmaster stood in line behind him. Through his conversation she overhead, Huffmaster surmised that Creston also had cancer, and she took a moment to share her foundation with him.
“I felt very compelled by her passion for providing support for people going through cancer,” said Creston.
Creston, who left his previous career to launch Vamp Salon in Oakley with his wife, now also dedicates his time helping to develop a business plan, produce copy and creative materials for the website and offers consulting on progress Huffmaster and the team are making.
“In my early diagnosis,” Creston said. “I wish someone had said to me, ‘It doesn’t have to be scary. It is scary, we acknowledge it, your feelings are valid. All the anxiety and fears you have are 100% valid, but we’ve been through this, we know many people who have been through it and it doesn’t have to be scary. You’re not alone.’ It really ties back to what Lauren is saying about the fears and anxiety.”
My Cancer Card will be developed under the Adventure Therapy Foundation business and funding will go toward both endeavors. At this point, Huffmaster has gathered volunteers, but the application’s buildout will take months of full-time work. She’s currently fundraising to accumulate enough money to get it fully running.
“From the moment someone first gets diagnosed, My Cancer Card will change everything,” she said. “It will help take that trauma away from the person’s experience. This area is amazing — people know people — and all it takes is one person to hear my heart.”
For more information on Adventure Therapy Foundation and My Cancer Card, visit adventuretherapyfoundation.org.