BUCKTOWN — After losing two grandparents to cancer and seeing several of her friends live with the disease, Bucktown resident Ariana Vargas thought of something she could do to help.
She created My Health Sensei, a website that aims to be the Yelp for cancer patients by providing a place where they can rate and review services in a way geared to those dealing with the disease.
Vargas, 30, has come to know cancer far too well.
Her grandfather died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2008 before her grandmother succumbed to lung cancer in 2011. She also has three friends in their early 20s and 30s living with a form of cancer.
"It’s just this shocking weird thing that you don’t think is going to happen," Vargas said.
But knowing so many people with the disease has also mobilized her to action.
Emily Morris tells us about MyHealthSensei.com:
As part of her job at GiveForward, the medical fundraising website launched by her sister, Desiree Vargas Wrigley, Vargas toured the country for three years giving talks about cancer to other health professionals and learning more about patient needs.
She found that when it comes to some common issues, such as where to get a wig, what kinds of support groups are helpful and how to find a good mentor, there wasn't a place patients could go to review cancer-specific services and find help after receiving a scary diagnosis.
General review websites will work for those looking for the best places for takeout food, but they don't always cut it when it comes to the heavier topics.
"The emotional state of someone who's going through cancer is very different than someone who’s going on to a site like Yelp to find what they want for dinner," Vargas said.
After spending months getting the site ready, Vargas launched My Health Sensei last week. With the site still in its infancy, many of the business listings are still waiting for people to fill them with reviews. Vargas said she planned to add to the site as she received more feedback.
Vargas hopes the website reaches cancer patients, patient advocates and others like her who want to find resources for their friends and family, she said.
With entrepreneurship in her blood, My Health Sensei marks Vargas' second business.
She created Vida Mia Productions, another very personal project, after she managed to capture lasting footage of her grandfather before he died. With the production company, Vargas now helps others preserve memories of their loved ones.
But Vargas said of all her accomplishments, this one trumps them all.
"The idea that something I've built can eliminate the fear that someone feels when they first get that diagnosis is something I can say I’m most proud of," Vargas said.
"I think we all want to leave something in the world that helps make it better," she said.