After 12 years of helping to get young adult cancer officially on the map of oncology care, the time has come to step down as the CEO of Stupid Cancer, pass the torch to new leadership, and focus on being more present at home with my wife and very sentient 8-year-old twins.
…And then it’s off to find the next great big thing I can disrupt.
My Dad has always said that the secret to life was to (1) clean up nice, (2) make it look good (e.g., fake it ’til you make it), and (3) never look under the hood. As a 23-year young adult survivor of what was initially thought to be terminal brain cancer, there’s a lot under my hood.
And it is precisely those nuts and bolts that, since 2007, have gotten me up every morning and helped me go to bed each night knowing that I helped to make a difference for that next 21-year-old college Senior who was told they had six months to live.
When I first entered this universe back in 2006, the term “young adult cancer” did not exist. Those three words were not uttered in succession.
There were no young adult-specific standards of care. No dedicated medical research. No peer-reviewed, published journal articles. No white papers. No poster sessions. No guidelines. No best practices. No fertility rights. No medical education. No specialized cancer centers. No survivorship programs. And few if any, age-appropriate psychosocial support resources existed.
But most importantly of all, there was no community.
There was no voice.
I was blessed to be in the right place at the right time with all the right people who believed it was possible to start a movement to change all of this; to usher in a new era of equality and justice for a forgotten generation of cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers.
As Stupid Cancer approaches its 12th anniversary, it’s time to look outside of the apple core in which we operate and celebrate the orchard writ large.
Today, young adult cancer is a thing. A mainstream thing,
Everything that did not exist in 2007 now exists. It’s all there. All of it — and it is everything we wished for and so much more.
Who knew we’d have state and federal policies on fertility preservation and right to parenthood? Who knew we’d get federal student loan debt forgiveness and designated NCI research funding?
Who would have predicted the rise of young adult-specific professional oncology societies with journals teeming with peer-reviewed clinical and behavioral research studies?
And conferences. So many young adult conferences!
This is success.
This is “Mission Accomplished,” but with an asterisk.
Are there still 72,000 new diagnoses each year?
Is cancer incidence increasing disproportionately to population growth for this demographic? Are young adults still the most disenfranchised age group in cancer? And are we still underserved and facing significant and unprecedented gaps in early detection, financial hardship, mental health, trial enrollment, peer support, infertility, and navigation?
But has the Sisyphean hurdle been cleared in getting this off the ground?
Does young adult cancer suck a little less today?
I like to create, disrupt and break things. It’s who I am.
Young adult cancer no longer needs this. My baby has grown up and I am so proud. And while it isn’t perfect by any means, it for certain is not broken any more or less than anything else in our healthcare system.
While there still remains a herculean task at hand to keep the momentum going and scale our impact, I have full faith that Stupid Cancer 2.0 has a glorious future and enduring success ahead of itself as a global voice for the young adult cancer movement.
As Founder and CEO Emeritus, my commitment to that future has never been stronger and I look forward to collaborating—and serving at the pleasure of—the staff and the Board of Directors for ongoing strategy and vision.
After recently getting the “all clear” from my oncologist and pre-celebrating my upcoming 23rd cancerversary, my reflections on this decision are both bittersweet and inspirational.
Stupid Cancer has been — and shall always be — my legacy.
It has been the honor of a lifetime to make a dent in the universe with you.
To infinity and beyond,
Matthew Zachary & Family