A cancer journey affects both physical and mental health. This often results in feelings of social isolation, loss of identity, clinical depression and even PTSD. This often goes unrecognized and undiagnosed due in part to lack of resources, tools and time.
Swedish startup War On Cancer wondered whether they could help those affected by cancer get a preventive diagnosis and mental health support. They also wanted to help health professionals in their mission to help save lives.
With these questions and goals in mind, they joined the SAS Hackathon.
Not your traditional startup
The story of War On Cancer doesn’t follow the traditional journey of a startup.
In 2015 at 28 years old, Fabian Bolin, co-founder of War On Cancer, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). Bolin began documenting his cancer battle on a blog as a cry for help, processing the painful emotions. Soon after his first post, he received tens of thousands of shares, comments and likes on social media.
In openly processing his experience, Bolin saw how many others also needed a space to share their stories and lend a helping hand; a place to feel heard and be less alone. Bolin felt a newfound sense of deep meaning and purpose that sparked the beginning of post-traumatic growth. An idea was born: to create a place where everyone impacted by cancer can band together and grow through adversity.
Bolin and his close friend Sebastian Hermelin conceptualized the idea into a global platform – War On Cancer, one of the world’s largest social apps that improves the lives of everyone impacted by cancer. Members can connect with others in a similar experience, journal, share their stories, ask questions and help others.
Our mission was to create a place where everyone impacted by cancer can band together and grow through adversity. I have seen many hackathons and they all bring great ideas. The SAS Hackathon was quite unique because it helps people like us to transform ideas into reality. I would almost say that this wouldn’t have been possible without SAS.
– Sebastian Hermelin, CEO and co-founder of War On Cancer
During the SAS Hackathon, War On Cancer teamed up with and conducted a survey together with app users from around the world. The purpose was to understand their experience of how health care addresses their mental health.
Addressing mental health challenges with AI
For one month, the team had free access to SAS® Viya®, the AI, analytics and data management platform provided by SAS. The team collected the survey’s insights to perform qualitative analysis for a deeper understanding of the patient’s journey.
They also used Natural Language Processing for translation and to extract the sentiment, discovering patterns and useful insights previously hidden. These sources gave a massive pond of knowledge to build smart, empathetic and effective services on. And by using chatbots using conversational AI, patients are guided to relevant self-service solutions.
The team has developed a solution that helps patients and medical teams to detect early indications of mental health issues. A diagnosis tool, early support and self-treatment programs are provided to demonstrate how predictive analytics can improve mental health.
“With SAS and their Viya platform, we found out new possibilities to create value using data that we never thought possible. The other great thing that SAS offers is a deep understanding and a large network in the health care and life science sectors. It enabled us to see how we could succeed in this space and find possibilities that would have been hard for us by ourselves," Hermelin said.
What was first launched as a blog portal in 2016 has now grown into one of the world’s largest social apps that improves the lives of everyone impacted by cancer. Members can connect with others in a similar experience, journal, share their stories, ask questions and help others.
The app also amplifies the patient voice in cancer research through in-app studies, making it easy to make their experiences count and shape the future of cancer care.