"Women are a lot like tea bags; you don't know how much they can take until you put them in hot water."
This is what my close friend Thuy Thanh Truong says when people ask her about her battle with lung cancer.
I first met Thuy four years ago when we were both part of the 500 Startups' accelerator program in Mountain View. Everyone in our batch (if not all of Silicon Valley) immediately noticed this serial entrepreneur's intense determination and drive. Some people even found it intimidating, but I deeply admired it, and we quickly became friends.
From 30-Mile Hikes to Stage 4 Cancer
After winding down one company and selling another, Thuy moved back to Vietnam. She was producing a movie there when she started experiencing extreme pain in her shoulders. She went to the hospital, where she learned that one-third of her left lung had filled with fluid. After more testing, the doctor told her she had Stage 4 lung cancer--the last stage.
Although she was only 31, this wasn't the first time Thuy found herself battling cancer. At the age of 21, she underwent surgery for a tumor. The promise she made to herself to live each day like her last, and she really did. Between starting three companies, road-tripping solo across America, and publishing a book called Gear Up, Thuy experienced more in one decade than most people do in a lifetime.
Just before she got sick, she was hiking 20 to 30 miles a week, trying to produce a reality show in Vietnam, and helping bring another tech company to life. Her decision to start a new cancer initiative for Vietnamese patients--which she told me about one night as we assembled a Lego amusement park--seemed a natural next step.
Determined to Improve Cancer Patients' Experiences Everywhere
After Thuy was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, she began to do a lot of research to make sure she was getting the most effective treatment. That was when she realized the information she was learning could also benefit many other cancer patients.
"But just providing useful information is not enough to help cancer patients," she told me. "My goal is to help them connect with other patients so they can support each other instead of feeling overwhelmed and alone. This community could also help their loved ones support one another, and share information that could help them care more effectively for those affected with cancer."
Thuy feels fortunate for the great care she has been able to receive in the United States, but she realizes many of the world's cancer patients don't have the same experiences. "I was particularly inspired by meeting other cancer patients here [in the United States] who were continuing to fight strong after many years, and those who had even managed to overcome diagnoses that were otherwise believed to be terminal," says Thuy.
She goes on to say, "With 'Salt Cancer Initiative,' I want cancer patients in Vietnam to have the same experiences and treatment options that I have been fortunate enough to have gotten in the U.S. Ultimately, I want to make sure no cancer patients are left behind--those who have the will to fight against this deadly disease shouldn't have to fight their battle alone."
The Hack Against Cancer
During her cancer treatments, despite all of the side effects and symptoms, Thuy worked relentlessly to connect government and nonprofit resources with Vietnamese cancer patients. Even though she was sick, she continued to work 60-hour weeks, dividing her time between managing 4 different mobile apps that help cancer patients navigating through their cancer journey and fundraising for her non-profit, Salt Cancer Initiative.
In April 2017, she organized the first Hackathon solely aimed with the mission of helping cancer patients manage their treatment better and improve their life quality during this difficult time. The Hackathon, which was held at Thuy's alma mater, the University of Southern California (USC), attracted more than 50 participants and speakers from the National Institute of Health, the Cancer Moonshot Initiative, and top faculty from local universities.
The event received an anonymous donor to help the participants continue working on their products and ideas for the summer through the Michelson Fellowship Program, designed and managed by Thuy.
Inspiring Physicians to Help Cancer Patients in Vietnam
Thuy's efforts with the USC Michelson Center got the attention of USC's Provost Office, inspiring them to help her make her dreams to help Vietnamese cancer patients come true. USC is collaborating with her to host the first Multidisciplinary Oncology Conference in Vietnam. Said USC Provost Michael Quick:
"The University of Southern California is honored to be part of Thuy Truong's cancer forum in Vietnam. We wholeheartedly support her efforts to share our knowledge and research with other oncologists and scientists. This is one of our main priorities as a top research university: to bring our scholarship to other regions of the world in an effort to to help stop this disease, and others, on all fronts. Through our Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience, we have scientists, engineers, data experts, clinicians and others collaborating to fast-track the treatment and cure for cancer and other diseases. We are a private research university devoted to the public good, here and globally."
Twenty oncologists and professors will be flying to Hanoi, Vietnam to share their insights and best practices with Vietnamese medical professionals on September 5-7, 2017. Meanwhile, Thuy is helping the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience with a research project that aims at helping cancer patients, while also acting as President of the Salt Cancer Initiative.