I wanted a hat.

Not just any hat. A lovely, warm, friendly, chemo hat. Perhaps one with a flower or decoration? I knew I was going to lose my hair and I was nervous about purchasing over the internet as I wasn’t sure about the size of my head. Besides I was off work so how about making a day of it. A spot of lunch, some hat trying and buying. Bit of a pick me up. 

Two hours later after using a famous search engine, I had become stubborn. All I could see was results back from the United States. Lovely, but I live in Eastbourne, England. I had tried every combination and declared I was happy to travel a little. 

I’d like to think I am pretty tech savvy. I work in the technology industry and frequently declare myself to be a technologist, but on this occasion, I had totally failed.

The mysteries kept coming. 

I met some wonderful new friends during treatment and we were exchanging information to try and help each other. A new discovery was the Willow Foundation. I certainly wouldn’t have typed into a search engine ‘diagnosed-with-cancer-under-age-of-40-nice-day-out’. A sentence like that did not enter my head, yet there was this incredible charity offering special days and I only found out about them per chance. 

This is not right.

You could say, this is when the concept of Cancer Central was born. However, it was after a 16-month contract as Interim IT Director when I became brave and decided to leave paid work in January 2018 to try and find a way to make this happen. It is a bit of a mountain to climb, there is clearly no central list of businesses and charities who support people affected by cancer, so how on earth am I going to create a centralised source of information, utilising the latest technologies only now coming of age? I will not let this deter me. I know a resource like this is needed.

Fast forward 9 months and I am pinching myself. The kindness of the technology Industry has been phenomenal.  Cancer Central launched on 17th September 2018 with Anthony Nolan, AllClear Travel Insurance and RXLive Pharmacy as the first organisations to register. More organisations registered on 18th September with thanks to the support and help from Expedia’s Day of Caring and the social media campaign #HelpisHere.  

Subject matter experts have contributed to everything from the ideas, suggestions, design, processes, build, testing, policies, data and so on. So far, over 10,000 hours have been donated to Cancer Central. We are describing this new way of working as Cominovation(Community + Innovation).

We have gained support through Cominovation from organisations such as IBM Watson, Expedia, American Express, TechFINIUM, ROQ, Givey.com, Sullivan & Stanley, eSynergy Solutions, reThink Digital Gurus, Skills Matter, CodeNode, Pearce Marketing, Roar Media and over 100 committed individuals who believe in our vision.

At the end of October you will be able to ask AVE, our digital employee powered by IBM Watson and use conversational search to look for organisations who provide benefits advice, insurance products, counselling, complementary therapy, respite care, hats, wigs, lingerie, skincare, financial help, nutrition advice, local societies or communities, meals on wheels, books, blogs, forums, local hospital taxi services and so on, based on your location and cancer type.

Right now, we are asking businesses and charities to register so that they can be found quickly and easily in time of need. We have a full roadmap ahead and lots of opportunity to Cominovate.

I simply cannot thank everyone enough individually for what we have achieved and will continue to achieve.

Many, many thanks from the bottom of my heart

Avril Chester


Follow and support the journey from idea, to start-up and beyond @CancerCentralUK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Cancer Central CIC is a social enterprise, registered in England No. 10733608.

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