Uncommon Determination

The gamechangers of the future “will be those who can and do empathize with the physical and emotional impact of diseases on the patient, and they will push the boundaries to make care more effective, more timely, and more efficient,” says Erika Vial Monteverdi, executive director of Cancer Commons, a nonprofit collaborative of patients, physicians, and scientists dedicated to transforming oncology and saving lives.

Monteverdi, who holds an MBA and a dual bachelor’s degree in political science and economics, joined Cancer Commons in 2016 and took on her current role in 2018, overseeing one of Silicon Valley’s only nonprofits focusing on serving cancer patients globally by aligning incentives around them to produce better outcomes. She believes changes to cancer treatment must start with what happens after the initial diagnosis, when people often find themselves lost in a sea of confusing and contradictory Internet search results. “Patients feel left on their own,” she notes. “They feel as though they’re in the driver’s seat looking at an empty passenger seat beside them.”

“I joined Cancer Commons because I wanted to make a big impact in people’s lives and create a new model in healthcare that will benefit many,” she continues. “At the core, it’s a very simple idea: namely, to wrap research and care around patient needs first.  This starts with understanding a patient’s diagnosis, giving them compassion through good communication, and working to find options that respect and mirror the desires of patients with cancer, and their families and friends that support them.”

A coach’s daughter, Monteverdi learned early that “there is no such thing as quitting—ever.” This serves her well personally (juggling three kids and a demanding job, for example) and professionally. “Curing advanced cancer patients is challenging,” she acknowledges, “but we believe that a longer life expectancy and good quality of life are attainable. Our goal is to get patients to the next promising treatment while maintaining a good quality of life by combining available knowledge and clinical experience to produce the ‘best shots on goal’ for patients.”

Monteverdi singles out the example of a Cancer Commons patient named Amy. Despite having a team of well-known doctors and having done her own research, Amy started an ongoing conversation with the nonprofit—one that helped validate the decisions she made with her care team. “Cancer Commons was Amy’s resource as she chose a surgeon and debated types of surgery and type and length of therapy to have,” Monteverdi says. “Cancer Commons’ research team continued to reach out to her, emailing her when they hadn’t heard from her. She told me she was astonished by the care and concern and wanted to take what she learned from Cancer Commons—a straightforward, proactive approach—forward in her life.”

Monteverdi is tackling weighty questions on daily basis: how to scale compassion, for instance, and how to get each patient the right treatment at the right time. Cancer Commons—unique among non-profit organizations—empowers desperate, advanced cancer patients who have exhausted standard treatments, to find and access personalized new options, and hope. The Cancer Commons network of patients, physicians and scientists learns in real time from every patient, every day, and shares that knowledge immediately with countless other patients, thereby giving them their best “shots on goal” against cancer. But she’s determined to keeping searching for the answers. “I know who I am,” she says simply, “and this gives me the strength to approach life with great enthusiasm and joy.”

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