Elissa Kalver ’09 knows one thing for sure: She doesn’t need any more blankets.
In July of last year, at the age of 34 and only days away from her daughter’s first birthday, Kalver was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. That was shocking news, and family and friends immediately flooded her with offers of support. “What can I do?” they asked. “How can I help? What do you need?”
Their concern was touching. It also was overwhelming. Kalver couldn’t think of what to tell them. “It created an unintentional burden on me,” she says. “I had never been through this before. I had no idea how they could help.”
That didn’t stop people from sending gifts. Kalver received plenty of Amazon and Grubhub gift cards and also lots of lotions and the aforementioned blankets. “Thankfully, I really love blankets because I think I received about 20 of them,” she says. “I was touched that people took the time to think of me.”
As she began her treatment, Kalver thought of that wave of kindness and support she was receiving. People so badly want to help when someone they love is going through a difficult time, she realized. “It’s therapeutic for people who care about you to do something,” she says. The question is—how can that help be better utilized?
The answer is We Got This, a nonprofit platform that Kalver has been working on in the months after her diagnosis. We Got This will provide a marketplace filled with a vetted list of services and products—socks, hats, meal delivery, ice packs, facials, etc.—that cancer patients may need. The site also will allow users to create a registry that they can share with others.
“It’s about getting people what they need when they need it,” Kalver says. “This is for all of us who have ever been affected by cancer and want an immediate way to help those we care about.”
Going through the hard work of starting a venture, while simultaneously undergoing cancer treatment, may not seem like the ideal situation. After all, Kalver’s diagnosis was daunting, the cancer having spread from her breast and lymph nodes to her liver and lower spine. She faced many rounds of chemotherapy.
Soon after receiving her diagnosis, though, she was thinking of how she could make something good come from the experience. She wanted to start a nonprofit of some sort. “I need to do something,” she says. “I am not going through this for nothing.”
Her family and friends weren’t as enthused about the idea. “Everyone was saying, relax. Focus on you. Don’t overload yourself,” Kalver recalls.
“I have gotten messages from people going through treatment and saying, ‘This would really help me. How can I join the fight?’ ”
Elissa Kalver ’09
The idea of starting a nonprofit wouldn’t go away, and it came to a head as Kalver went through her fifth round of chemotherapy (she would complete eight rounds in all). Normally, Kalver was able to stay optimistic during her treatment, but she had hit a low patch. She wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t focus, and that’s when she decided that she was done waiting.
“Why am I waiting to do the thing that I want to do that will make me feel better?” she asked. Grabbing her laptop, she started typing up thoughts and ideas. She called her accountant and some attorney friends, and just like that, the venture she had dreamed of doing was beginning.
One of the calls she made eventually was to Babson’s Gerri Randlett, the assistant vice president of alumni engagement and annual giving, who put her in touch with alumni entrepreneurs offering helpful advice. “I felt like things really took off when I called Gerri. It was the game changer for me,” Kalver says. “People encouraged me. I don’t think it would be the idea that it is without my Babson network and community.”
Kalver is now adjusting to life with cancer. While she finished with chemotherapy at the end of last year, she continues to receive immunotherapy treatments every three weeks. The average life expectancy for women with her diagnosis is roughly five years, though as medicine continues to advance, many are living far beyond that. “It’s considered a terminal illness,” she says, “but the goal is to treat it as a chronic disease.”
We Got This remains a priority, as Kalver is raising funds, finding businesses to partner with, and working to build the online site. We Got This will focus initially on Kalver’s native Los Angeles, but she plans to expand nationally. “There is no time to waste. Life is short,” she says. “You learn that by having terminal cancer.”
Whatever happens on the journey, she knows she’s not alone. She has her husband, Eric, and her daughter, Ellie, and all her family and friends. She also has heard from many others dealing with cancer and offering their help. “I have gotten messages from people going through treatment and saying, ‘This would really help me. How can I join the fight?’ ”
When Kalver first received her diagnosis, and she would call loved ones with the news, there was always a pained silence. “It’s OK,” Kalver would inevitably say, “I got this.”
Over time, though, she realized that saying “I got this” didn’t feel quite right. Yes, she was the one with cancer, but so many others who cared for her were along for the ride as well. That’s why, when choosing a name for her nonprofit, Kalver decided to go with We Got This.
“It has to be ‘we,’ ” she says. “There is no ‘I’ in cancer.”
Posted in Entrepreneurial Leadership