Dena Stern is tall, beautiful, and smiling. She waved as she hurriedly walked towards me on a gorgeous late afternoon by San Francisco’s embarcadero area. You really wouldn’t know that she had recently survived breast cancer and is now working for the crowdfunding website that helped her financially make it through that ordeal.

That website is Standbuy, a tool that enables cancer patients to easily setup and run a crowdfunding campaign to help alleviate the cost of their cancer diagnosis.

Sadly, one in two men and one in three women are diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, according to Stand Up To Cancer. That’s two million new cancer diagnoses every year. Moreover, the average cost of a breast cancer diagnosis, for example, is $128,000, according to a Biomed Central study.

‘The gap’

Within the cancer community, there is a concept known as “the gap,” Stern explained.

For some cancer patients, their economic circumstances themselves become crippling. In short, people who make more than their state’s poverty line or have more than $15,000 in savings are ineligible for most traditional financial aid. And disability income only covers about half their salary.

Still, they do not have the resources to foot the bill, and they fall into the financial gap.

This is where Standbuy comes in. The average person has around 340 friends on Facebook, and if all of those friends chipped in a small contribution, they could easily raise several thousands of the dollars needed to pay for the treatments and related expenses.

Dena’s Story – Standbuy from Standbuy on Vimeo.

“At the time of my diagnosis, I had been calling out of work for close to a full week and was on the verge of being let go. Living paycheck to paycheck at the time this was already a hardship. Being diagnosed on top of it left me at a borderline meltdown,” said 24 year-old Standbuy user Zac Coffman in an email.

Coffman’s campaign ended on the one-year anniversary of his last treatment.

“I ended up using Standbuy to assist in knocking away at some of the bills I accumulated from my initial hospital stay. When I first was in the hospital being diagnosed, I was on a part-time employer insurance plan, which I maxed out in two days,” he added.

Standbuy uses WePay to process payment of the donations, which takes three of the seven percent transaction fee Stanbuy charges, and funds are deposited into the patient’s bank account as soon as they are donated. Stern said this is particularly important as it significantly helps alleviate the financial stress by not forcing patients to wait for funds while their bills are piling up each day.

“Standbuy has helped us financially already, which helps give some peace of mind. It’s already helped pay for doctor visits and some of my prescriptions,” said Casey McNaughton, also a 24-year old Stanbuy user, in an email.

“Once the bigger bills roll in, it will also help us greatly in staying afloat financially. Meaning we will still have a roof on our heads after I beat this cancer,” he said.

Cancer deserves beautiful technology

“Cancer is sad, and it deserve beautiful technology and a sense of humor,” said Stern.

Standbuy has been bootstrapped so far, but it still wants to create a top-notch website, experience, and tools for the people using it. Stern has been working for startups for a handful of years and is a fashion blogger in her spare time, so design and technology are non-negotiable to her — and to the rest of the team.

Stern explained that a huge amount of thought and design has gone into every part of Standbuy, down to the questions patients fill out when they create a profile. The team is also hard at work creating and uploading a variety of resources to help patients manage and promote their campaign.

Another inspiration: Google Chrome’s “Dear Sophie” video ad, a tale of a father using Google products to document his newborn daughter’s life, presumably leaving her with a digital journal from her father. The company is working on its own take on it.

Standbuy wants to show patients both the usefulness and the power of the tools and resources they’re building for them. It also wants them to feel empowered despite the feeling of powerlessness cancer can induce. A profile on a webpage is not just text and some photos — it can tell a story and communicate the patient’s progress. Social sharing buttons don’t just generate tweets and Facebook posts — they’re a way to reach and connect with the people in their social circles.

If Facebook worked the way it should

“I pretty much only post on Facebook for my mom now. She’s the only one that actually checks my page all the time,” said Stern.

She grabbed her smartphone, opened up her Facebook app, and proceeded to show me her News Feed as she scrolled through it.

“I don’t know what this is; I don’t what what this is either,” she said, as we pointed out various sponsored posts and app suggestions appearing in her News Feed.

Stern feels like Facebook has altered the algorithms that decide what content from one’s friends appears in the News Feed so much so that it’s been significantly crowded by advertising and no longer really keeps people informed of their friends’ updates. She added that she used to get hundreds of supportive comments and “likes” each time she would post a health update, and now she barely gets a handful.

This is very key to Standbuy’s model and the core idea of leveraging one’s social network for support during cancer treatment. Standbuy has built in easy ways for people to post their campaigns and updates on their social networks, but this can only truly function if they actually reach the the people in their social networks.

“It’d be great if Facebook worked the way it should,” she said.

If we take a quick walk down memory lane, Facebook began as a way for people to connect with classmates, then friends and family, then brands of their choosing. Somewhere along the way ads appeared first on the sides and then in the News Feed itself, where paid content from brands’ pages was already appearing.

But Facebook has been making — and announcing — changes to the algorithms dictating what shows up in our News Feeds, and sometimes possibly for the worst, in Stern’s opinion.

Last summer, after a BuzzFeed writer made the bold claim that no one actually sees your posts, Facebook held a small press conference and clarified that it had phased out EdgeRank, its old algorithms system, and was now ranking posts based on timeliness and how much you interact with certain posts and friends, more or less.

“Facebook’s goal is to show the right content to the right people at the right time so they don’t miss the stories that are important to them,” said a Facebook spokesperson in an email when I reached out about this story.

But there still seems to be a need to reconcile what Facebook thinks are the stories important to people and our own assessment. It’s quite likely that Stern’s friends would like to see updates about her health, so why aren’t they showing up more?

During our conversation, the idea of an “exemption” hashtag came up. Facebook could grant a cancer patient, for example, a special hashtag that would ensure that any content it marks shows up in the feeds of that person’s friends. Certainly, there is always the risk of abuse, as with anything, but isn’t connecting with the people we care about and staying updated on their lives what Facebook is all about?

And for Stern and others using Standbuy, it can come down to life or death — or insurmountable debt.

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