Stockholm-based former investment banker, actor and model Fabian Bolin set up social media network waroncancer.com to help improve the mental health of everyone affected by cancer.
He launched the storytelling platform, after being diagnosed with leukaemia in 2015 at the age of 28, finding comfort in writing a blog about his illness. One particular post went viral with 13,000 shares in just 24 hours and Fabian’s blog went on to achieve worldwide attention.
With a team of 13, Fabian and his business partner Sebastian Hermelin are now changing the conversation around cancer and mental health. Fabian tells us more as he answers our 7 Everyday Interview questions.
What did you want to be growing up?
After letting go of the rather typical “I want to become an NHL (National Hockey League) star” dream around 12 or 13, my focus shifted towards wanting to build a company. Microsoft was at its absolute peak and Bill Gates was, and still is, someone I admired. This idea of being an entrepreneur stayed with me throughout most of my childhood and teenage years. Before eventually embarking on business school studies (in other words ‘getting my act together’), I spent a summer in LA doing a film acting course. Both my parents used to work in the creative arts field, with my father being an opera singer and my mother working at the Royal Theatre in Stockholm – albeit not as an actress – so I guess I was partly influenced by them.
Where did the idea for your brand come from and how did you bring it to life?
Just like many others who have been diagnosed with cancer, my leukemia diagnosis was not anticipated. There was no sense that something was wrong, no clear warning signs. Prior to my diagnosis I was living in London, where I had spent two years working as an investment banker before deciding to become an actor and changing my career completely. I was set to join two feature films and had a visa to move to America. I had been working hard for years, so I wasn’t a stranger to exhaustion. I didn’t realise it was a sign of something far more serious than burn out. Then the doctors told me that I had leukemia.
I suppose things really started with me writing a post on Facebook, that was intended for friends and family. It was me giving them hands-on, frank, honest information about my new situation and, to my surprise, 24 hours later this post had been shared 13,000 times. The amount of love and support I received was the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced. It was the closest thing to a spiritual experience I’ve ever felt and then and there I realised two things; first, that everyone is connected to cancer and second, even though you hear a lot of talk about progress being made in cancer research, you rarely ever hear a cancer patient talk about what it’s really like to go through it.
I have considered myself a survivor since day one. Because that day marked the day of my new life. I made it my new mission to share my experience with the world through writing about it on a blog. I named the blog ‘Fabian Bolin’s War on Cancer’. The blog became my savior throughout the treatment, it gave me a purpose, a reason to get up each morning, a place for me to vent all of the frustration and darkness that went through my head, and, perhaps most importantly, a place where I could feel less alone. Messages of support from readers truly boosted me. Writing healed me. Not only because it helped me, but also because I knew that my story helped others.
Feeling this immense connection with others, with people who, if I had not been diagnosed with wouldn’t have had cancer would have been strangers, ignited something in me; I wanted to turn what I experienced into something larger, something accessible for every cancer patient from every corner of the earth.
It was my childhood friend, Sebastian Hermelin, who visited me from London and could see the huge positive impact that my blog had had on my mental health, who came up with the idea of what we were going to do to convert my experience to a global level. None of what we have created with War On Cancer would have existed without him.
He said; “Let’s give others the same opportunity as you. Let’s build a platform to enable storytelling on a large scale where everyone who has been affected by cancer gets the opportunity to share stories. Yours alone has brought so much healing not only to you but also to thousands of others, imagine what a platform would do.” It made perfect sense. That day War On Cancer was born and my second life properly began.
Fast-forward three years to today and I can genuinely say that this journey has been beyond anything I could ever imagine. War On Cancer has during the years evolved through three versions. What started out as a blog in May 2016 – attracting storytellers from 20 countries covering more than 35 forms of cancer – has evolved into a full-scale social network available on the App Store and Google Play. Our team of two has grown to 13 wonderful employees across three countries, Sweden, England and Bosnia.
Today and what’s here to last is War On Cancer – the social network app for people in and after treatment, and their loved ones, where members are welcome to share their journeys, all the while knowing that their stories are helping others. They can find inspiration by following someone similar to them and can establish real and authentic connections with people who can relate to what they one is going through. Most importantly, though, it is a platform where we’ll always fight cancer together.
What has been the greatest challenge to your brand/work?
With regard to challenges, and I suppose most founders can relate to this, there have been so many over the years that I can barely list them all. Building a company is hard on many levels. You have the financial distress, the mental challenges, and, of course, the physical effort required to work relentlessly while undergoing chemotherapy. However, I can safely say that I have never been even remotely close to giving up.
Waking up each morning knowing that we are building something that will help to improve the lives of thousands, if not millions of people, is the biggest win of all.
Who was or is your greatest influence?
All the people throughout history who have questioned the status quo. No one specific and too many to list.
How would you describe your personal style?
Simplistic. Black skinny jeans and a black/dark top (t-shirt or shirt).
Tell us something no one knows about you?
Very few people know that I never watch horror movies. Growing up as an only child, I spent a lot of time with my own thoughts and I guess that fueled my ability to imagine things and create an internal world in my head. Whenever I watch a movie, my imagination goes wild and sleeping becomes a real trouble.
7 words to describe yourself
Thoughtful, Passionate, Determined, Impatient, Visionary, Playful, Optimistic.
Written by Patrick McAleenan