When Molly Lindquist was struck with breast cancer five years ago, it was a terrifying experience. And it was agonizingly frustrating.
“You lose control of your body — my cells went rouge,” she said. “I wanted to bring some control into my story.”
So after successfully battling the disease through intensive surgery and chemotherapy, Lindquist felt driven to support cancer research and treatment to help others and hopefully prevent the illness from ever striking her two young daughters. She considered donating to different foundations and institutions, but came up dissatisfied with her options.
“I wanted this connection and stewardship with researchers,” she said. “I didn’t find the transparency or control to designate where the donation would go.”
Lindquist wished there was a medicine-focused outlet for crowd-funding — a site like Kickstarter or the nonprofit Kiva, which provides small loans to borrowers who struggle to get support for their projects. She began investigating the grant-making process and funding for disease research.
In August 2012, the Portland mom, who has a background in business strategy and economics, founded Consano, which is Latin for “to heal.” The nonprofit and website act something like Match.com for doctors and donors, connecting patients and their families to healthcare researchers and providers.
Consano has raised $900,000 so far, helping support some 40 different research projects addressing dozens of diseases, including multiple forms of cancer, still births and miscarriages, diabetes and mental health issues.
The nonprofit pays its overhead costs through separate fundraising, so all of the money contributed to research and treatment goes directly to those efforts (less the processing fee charged by PayPal).
People can donate to a variety of existing projects, or work with Consano to create an “honor fund” that’s tailored to a specific disease in tribute or memory of a loved one. All of the projects are carefully vetted by Consano’s volunteer Scientific Advisory Board.
Bryce Olson recently launched an honor fund in response to his own fight against prostate disease. Olson, who lives in Portland and is the Health and Life Sciences Global Marketing Director for Intel, was struck in 2014 with an unusually aggressive prostate cancer that initially responded to treatment, but ultimately defied the standard approach of surgery, chemo and hormone treatments.
The prognosis for Olson, who is the father of an 8-year-old daughter, was grim. The cancer was growing rapidly.
Despite that, Olson returned to Intel, eager to find an assignment that was health related. He pushed his way into the company’s health group and was surprised to learn that his own employer was working on genomics and precision medicine, an approach that customizes a patient’s treatment based on the specific genetic anomaly that causes their disease.
“I had no idea you could use science and technology to get to what fuels the person’s disease by looking at the DNA fingerprint,” Olson said.
He had his own tumor genetically sequenced by scientists at Oregon Health & Science University. They compared the tumor’s DNA to the code in his normal cells, thereby pinpointing the cause of his cancer. Olson then found a clinical trial at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles that was treating his exact cancer through precision medicine. He contacted the doctors and explained that he was a perfect match for their trial, and shortly began treatment.
The drugs worked.
“Here I am, having this great success with something that I’m seeing hardly any cancer patients get access too,” he said. “That made me want to change things, but I didn’t have any platform.”
By coincidence he met Lindquist, who is the CEO as well as the founder of Consano, as their daughters played at a Portland park. The topic of cancer came up, and Lindquist told him about her nonprofit. Together they recently launched a Consano fund dedicated to treating patients like Olson.
When he was sick, “I was imagining what the obit would say about me, that I worked at Intel and had a lot of friends and a lot of fun,” Olson said. “I wanted to have a bigger impact. I felt compelled to pay this forward.”
The Precision Medicine For Advanced Cancer Patients fund has raised more than $33,000, including $25,000 from Intel. The goal is $1 million — a much larger sum than many of the other projects, which can total $10,000 or less. The project will expand a clinical trial at OHSU’s Knight Cancer Institute that uses precision medicine.
While undergoing chemo, Olson wrote songs to help deal with his struggle and he now is collaborating with some well-known musicians from the Portland area to record them. The album, which he expects to release in February, will feature artists including Jenny Conlee of The Decemberists, Martha Davis of The Motels and Pete Krebs. The album is part of an effort Olson founded called FACTS: Fighting Advanced Cancer Through Songs. He hopes the music will raise awareness about precision medicine.
Olson and Lindquist are motivated by a sense of urgency in their mission to help other patients and their families.
Lindquist recently attended a memorial service for a mother who died from cancer.
“That is the fuel for my fire, for sure,” she said. “Every time I have that experience, I feel like I have to go faster.”