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Why We Fight

This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 edition of Silicon Slopes Magazine.

Cancer is both beginning and end. A small lump detected under skin, the cold anxiety of an exam room, white blot on a dark x-ray — the instant of change. Life as it was now ended, replaced by the understanding of what it means to fight. Cancer is real and brutal, the indiscriminate attack of cells on microscopic levels. And whether direct or indirect, it will touch everyone — the beginning of a new life, the fight for survival, the end of all that was.

Those who survive laugh, weep, embrace loved ones in white hospital rooms drowned in fluorescent light — a new beginning. They find shock in tiny moments: a bright red bow tied into a daughter’s black hair, long and beautiful as it catches the wind and flies; the deep pool of pre-dawn silence, arms wrapping around a solid figure, spouse, lover, hands clasped, first touch of morning sunlight spinning fine hairs to gold; alone and walking neighborhood streets, feet following familiar paths, streaks of red and purple shot against a fading sky. Life. Taken for granted until a doctor’s steady words bring change, the slow drip of an IV bag, the loss of hair in vibrant shades of blonde, black, brown, red. Life. Individual strands of time marked by events large and small, photo negatives we hold to the light and gasp at what’s revealed.

Those who die do so as living beings — fall asleep wrapped in soft white sheets, wake breathing fresh coconut in a lover’s hair. Hold hands moist with lotion, kiss lips covered in tiny cracks. Each week, a routine — bumpy car rides, the slow unwind of plastic tubes, head resting on pillows that crackle like dry paper. Return home to a mother’s shoulder, cheek against warm cotton, nose filled with clean detergent. Paint toenails bright red in the glow of afternoon sun. Celebrate birthdays with chocolate cake, blow out burning candles melted to liquid wax. Mirrors reflect change — smooth scalp, thinning flesh, unwavering eyes of light blue. Firm bed wheeled to the living room, 5×7 snapshots hung with clear strips of tape. The gathering of family. Gold flash of a sister’s earring, nervous tap of a brother’s foot. Final sounds of a father’s favorite story, deep voice rising and falling in waves. Eyes close, breathing steadies, face a picture of calm.

Those who remain gather memories like small jewels, flaws and perfections examined with shaking hands. Mothers die and we mourn in childhood homes, stare at untended gardens of ripe tomatoes and twisting weeds, hold children with the same dimpled smiles of the dead. Fathers die and we stand tall as they’re lowered in the ground, pummel heavy punching bags with bare, furious hands, shoot worn basketballs at backyard hoops until our fingers crack and bleed. Children die and we give thanks for the short time we had while grieving what could have been, light imaginary flares to trace the arc of our dreams. Brothers, sisters, friends, strangers, they die and we count the ways our paths crossed, how we golfed with them and laughed in a light rain, how we met them in passing and loved the way they spoke with kindness, how we exchanged sharp words and never took time to say sorry. Life, ended. We carry them to graveyards clothed in black, mark their passing with letters and numbers carved in stone. Express our love in speech, poem, song, words charged by force until transformed into something primal — anger turns to grief, grief turns to acceptance of loss. We seek solace in sleep, wade through memory real and unreal, search for meaning in fractured bits of dream. Wake and reach for those who aren’t there, the bed a smooth, white expanse of emptiness. Close our eyes and search for the shimmer of forgotten faces, slipping from conscience with each passing day.

Cancer research represents our hope and salvation — until a cure is found, people will continue dying, families will continue experiencing unspeakable loss.

This is the story of 5 For The Fight, a global fundraising campaign started by Qualtrics to eradicate cancer. It’s an open invite to join the battle, working towards a day when cancer won’t carry a death sentence. It’s a call to action for anyone who has watched cancer grab a loved one and squeeze.

This is the story of how to fight.


The Beginning

In 2002, Qualtrics was created. Four founders — Stuart Orgill, Scott Smith, Jared Smith, Ryan Smith — laid the framework for a customer experience and research software company that has grown into one of Utah’s most successful businesses: over 1,200 employees, 10 global offices, $400 million in venture funding, with plans to generate $1 billion in revenue in the next few years.

Before all the success, before Qualtrics became synonymous with tech unicorn, there was struggle. Scott was diagnosed with cancer in 2002 and began concentrating his time in two areas: fighting the disease and creating software. Over the next 15 years, he did both.

“Qualtrics started when my dad called me to tell me he had cancer,” said Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics. “I moved home and he and I started working on a tech project. That project eventually turned into Qualtrics. We vowed that if the company ever made any money, we would make it our mission to support cancer research.”

Today, Scott is a cancer survivor and the company he co-founded has means to join the fight. 5 For The Fight was created last year as Qualtrics’ way of giving back — jumpstarting a global campaign dedicated to raising money for cancer research, five dollars at a time.


The Five Keys

The first major announcement from 5 For The Fight involved a partnership arrangement with the Utah Jazz, with Qualtrics signing an agreement to have a 5 For The Fight patch placed on Jazz jerseys for the 2017–2018 season. The agreement marked the fifth of its kind in the NBA, patches worn on the jerseys of 5 players, asking for $5 contributions from anyone willing to join the fight.

Utah Jazz President Steve Starks and owner Gail Miller both voiced support for the cause.

“The Utah Jazz and Qualtrics are excited to form a partnership that will both transform the fan experience and make a tangible contribution to eradicating cancer by supporting some of the most important research being done today,” said Starks.

“Cancer has impacted innumerable people in our community and we are pleased to partner with them to bring attention to this worthy cause,” added Miller.

All money raised by 5 For The Fight goes directly towards cancer research, fueling potential breakthroughs in a variety of areas: studies on common cancers, underfunded cancers, and deadliest cancers; increasing the pipeline of young scientists; and encouraging innovation for researchers in search of a next generation cancer cure. As people donate to 5 For The Fight, funds are pushed towards cancer research institutes in the community where the money was raised.****In Utah, dollars go to the Huntsman Cancer Foundation in Salt Lake City, recent recipients of an $800,000 grant from 5 For The Fight. With the goal of taking their mission global, 5 For The Fight has started by hashing out partner arrangements with cancer researchers in five areas: Utah; Dallas, Texas; Seattle, Washington; Dublin, Ireland; and Sydney, Australia. All five areas are home to Qualtrics office space, with all donations matched by Qualtrics.

Keeping in the line with the theme of fives, 5 For The Fight has defined five keys to help push the fight global:

  1. A Five For The Fight Board and influencer campaign. The board was officially approved at the end of November: Ryan Smith, 5 For The Fight co-founder Mike Maughan, and Qualtrics Corporate Counselor Sydnee Christensen. Parallel to this, the influencer campaign encourages notable public figures to join the fight and spread the word. Steve Young, Kascade, and Julianne Hough have all participated with many more to come.
  2. Ambassadors. Utah Jazz starting point guard Ricky Rubio is the first ambassador to join the 5 For The Fight campaign. Rubio lost his mother to cancer in 2016 and promised to continue the fight in her honor. “When I found out the Utah Jazz had a partnership with 5 For The Fight I think it was a sign from up in heaven that I was sent to be here in Utah,” said Rubio. “The last thing my mom asked me to do was to help make it easier for people going through cancer.” As part of the ambassador agreement, Rubio has committed to raising $150,000 through a PLEDGE IT campaign — for every assist, Rubio asks fans to donate money towards the season-long goal. Other corporate partners have agreed to join the fight, with Layton Construction pledging to match the first $20,000 in contributions. Qualtrics envisions adding 50 key ambassadors spanning areas like sports, tech, and entertainment, all with the same goal: cancer eradication.
  3. Products. 5 For The Fight currently sells merchandise that can be purchased inside Vivint Smart Home Arena or within the Utah Jazz app — t-shirts, lanyards, car decals, lapel pins, onesies, hats and jersey patches. Other partners, including Stance and New Era, have committed to selling 5 For The Fight goods with proceeds going back to cancer research.
  4. Events. As part of the partnership with the Jazz, several games have been set aside as specific 5 For The Fight nights, rallying 20,000 fans and a television audience to the cause. Work is being done to bring different musicians and venues on board, using the same idea of specific 5 For The Fight nights. “You can activate an entire crowd and create a crowdfunding experience in one minute,” said Lori Kun, Head of Social Impact at Qualtrics.
  5. Companies. Starting in January, UPS will be taking donations for a special 5 For The Fight sticker that will be placed on boxes and shipped out of 50 different locations. Organizers are also working on partnership arrangements with more companies, with announcements coming soon.


Cancer Ends With A Show Of Hands

Behind every hand, a story. Fortune tellers say that anything can be gleaned from an open palm — nostalgia of past, weight of present, promise of future. Like creased, aged maps, our hands can be examined to see the stories of all we’ve held, all we’ve let go. Fingerprints and callouses speaking to the unique existence of each person. Life stories, read from the lines of open palms.

“5 For The Fight is eradicating cancer five dollars at a time,” said Kun. “We do that by having people write the name of someone on their hand and donate five dollars — or whatever size donation they want — to cancer research in their name.”

Cancer affects everyone, whether past, present, or future — on October 21, 2017, Vivint Smart Home Arena was the forum for these stories to be told. As part of the first 5 For The Fight night hosted by the Utah Jazz and Qualtrics, fans attending Jazz-Thunder were encouraged to donate five dollars to cancer research in the name of someone they know, writing their name in bold black letters upon a hand. Pictures and stories were shared on the jumbotron and social media, urged by the mission of 5 For The Fight: cancer ends with a show of hands.

“The night was uplifting and powerful — tinged with sadness, but more about action,” said Kun. “5 For The Fight is not about despair, it’s about empowerment and taking action. We can do something — look at what we can do together. It’s something forward-moving and optimistic. We know that there are so many people personally affected by cancer, but to see actual photos, to see their stories on social media, to dig deeper and ask questions about the story behind the name on the hand, it’s striking and emotional and visceral. It’s not just a name on a hand, there’s something behind it. Hours of family discussions and wrestling with what to do. Wondering how you’re going to take care of this person and what it means for their kids. When someone goes, they leave things behind. What have we lost because they’re not in this world anymore?”


Silicon Slopes, Ground Zero

Silicon Slopes has grown into a nationally-recognized hub for tech, startups, and business. Leading this charge is a large group of companies — including Qualtrics, Pluralsight, and Insidesales — that have followed similar recipes to success, each in their own distinct way. All three businesses spent years bootstrapping before breaking through, raising large amounts of outside funding, and moving into hyper-growth trajectories. And after solidifying their standing in the business world, all three companies have made concerted efforts to give back: Qualtrics with 5 For The Fight; Pluralsight with Pluralsight One, a social impact initiative dedicated to closing the technology skills gap; and Insidesales with the Do Good Foundation, committed to helping disadvantaged women, children, and people in need.

Qualtrics, Pluralsight, and Insidesales represent three companies out of thousands in Silicon Slopes and they practice a mindset shared by many businesses within the community: it’s important to give back. 5 For The Fight was started by Qualtrics but the mission of eradicating cancer is much larger than one organization. It’s a global fight, started in a state that prides itself on charitable contributions. Welcome to Silicon Slopes, ground zero.

“Silicon Slopes is ground zero for 5 For The Fight,” said Kun. “All of the companies here are so close-knit, everyone collaborates and works well together. We want them to take our platform at 5 For The Fight and use it in ways they see fit. Maybe it’s through employee giving, maybe it’s through an event like 5 For The Fight Friday. What is it that each company can do that’s authentic to their culture? We all have certain ways of doing things but as a group, Silicon Slopes has commonality — we dream big, we’re scrappy, and we take on big goals. Our hope is that every Silicon Slopes company is a 5 For The Fight company.”

Many companies have created employee giving programs that enable workers to donate a small portion of their paycheck to approved charities of choice, with dollars matched by the employer. Corporate philanthropy has become especially prominent in Silicon Slopes and Kun envisions a natural pairing between 5 For The Fight and employee giving programs already established within Utah’s business community.

“Employee giving is where you start seeing a big acceleration in our numbers,” said Kun. “If a company can make a five year pledge and then match it, even five dollars a paycheck can add up in a company with 1,000 employees. It can make a substantial impact where individual people aren’t really feeling too much.”


Why We Fight

It’s winter and snow has begun to fall, dripping from the sky in wet, heavy flakes. The world turns white through a pane of clear glass, steam of black coffee rising in wisps of transparent gray. We gather in a room towering with presents, mismatched boxes heaped around an aging wooden piano, bright red stockings lined in rows beside a fading couch. A mother who scratched my scalp when I was sick, her fingers digging hard and gentle into fevered skin. A father who manned the backyard grill, bars of heated iron and dancing flame, grin wide as the meat sizzled and popped. Three brothers: a chemist, his brainpower a tool I admire, uniform a labcoat of brilliant white; a student, spare time filled with the gentle pluck of fingerpicked guitar, silence cut by the soft ring of piano keys; a prospective businessman, dressed in sleek fabric of blue, black, green, soft clothing a cover for the jagged scar on his chest. Three sisters by blood, one by marriage: the oldest, who bought and wore a ballcap of my favorite team when we were young, who grew into a woman who draws power from waves of ringing laughter; the middle, a creator who takes pride in every completed project, giant white wedding cakes, paintings splashed with oily, violet rays; the youngest, legs blurred as she runs alone and content on winding mountain trails, stunned by the molten dip of a setting sun, earbuds turning a three mile stretch from earth to heaven; and the doctor, quiet and attentive through every medical question, notes and annotations charting progress, lined pieces of paper marked with hard information on the living and dead. Together, we focus our attention — two tiny bodies, raw energy charged into chubby arms and legs. A pot-bellied nephew swings toy lightsabers in jerky, wide swaths, red curls bounce as he shouts and screams. A rosy-cheeked niece shrieks and runs in breathless circles, stumbles, falls, and rises again. We watch as they tear into the first present, ripping paper with frantic, sharp gasps. We laugh, and the snow continues falling. All is well in the world.

It’s easy to slip into the pleasure of one moment and think this is how it will always be. Every day I wake surrounded by people I love, doing the things I love. I spend Christmas morning with family and imagine it continuing forever. Opening presents, laughing, expressing shock at how much each person changes over the course of a year. It’s easier to bask in this glow than to think of what awaits.

I don’t know how this ends. Every year, close to eight million people die from cancer; over the course of a lifetime 40% of us will be diagnosed. It is a disease uncured, blind in who it chooses, brutal in its means. Cancer already affects tens of millions of people and those who love them. They are forced to fight a daily battle between life and death — today it’s their fight, tomorrow it could be mine or yours. The beginning of a new life, the end of all that was.

This is why we fight.