The Gus Story...

Gus Project started as a personal exploration into my relationship with cancer, in particular, Stage 4 breast cancer in 2016.  After 23 years of having breast cancer, this was the first time it became truly life-threatening. I'd had death-defying types of treatment, but never anything that was terminal.

I felt compelled to figure out my relationship with cancer. I needed to make sense of my stage 4  diagnosis and treatment plan in the context of what looked like a shortened period of life to live.  I couldn't get a handle on this news without finding out how I was going to relate to it. In all the time I'd had cancer, I never thought it would kill me.

Working with my highly capable therapist, we started down the path of understanding.  We got to a place where she asked me if I could accept my cancer? I didn't know what she was talking about.  I reacted hard to that idea and couldn't see it at all. I immediately thought acceptance meant giving up, letting go of my courage and grit. My courage and grit are what got me through all those years.

As we journeyed into  the idea of acceptance, it became much clearer.  I had a choice in how I would spend my time and how I might create meaning in my life.  I could choose acceptance, making space for life and living with the things I loved or I could choose to think about death, filling my living space with worries about dying.  I came to see acceptance as a desirable place for me. I had never thought about being in a battle or fight for my life. I never saw any of my treatments as a win or lose proposition.  I was never angry, and I didn't want to go to war with my cancer. I didn't believe I would be a failure if I didn't try hard enough. My cancer was not my fault.

Once I realized acceptance created space for me to breathe, live and play with my dog, I worked hard on what can sometimes be a slippery concept.  In the middle of this, the idea of Gus emerged and evolved. Gus is an inanimate object (an adorable stuffed dog toy, to be precise) that represents my cancer.  This inanimate object became something I could talk to, share my feelings with and created a concrete way of building a relationship with my disease. Gus became vital to me.

Gus evolved to become an object other people could use to relate to their own illnesses.  The designer in me went to work, thinking about all the innovative ways to share Gus with anyone having a hard time with a severe illness, including parents, caretakers, friends, sisters, and brothers.

Gus evolved into an innovative set of ideas having merit in the world of medicine and patient engagement. Gus Project is my personal palliative care plan, and it’s also a project where I combine my personal medical experience with my professional life as an innovator. Within our Western medical model, there is a tremendous gap between what happens at the time of diagnosis and what happens at the very end of life.  Gus Project is about more than the emotional journey of relating to cancer, it is about living a vital life, being the center of your own treatment plan surrounded by a team who sees you as a whole person and treats you that way too. We can take our challenges in the field of medicine and turn them into assets in which we could design all kinds of meaningful programs, in any community, anywhere. I see a way to answer needs with solutions and scale it.  For a big thinker like me, I have the most compelling idea I've ever had, using every thing I've learned, to build a comprehensive plan that will outlive me.