For some, cancer is a crisis. For others, once they get over the initial shock of a frightening diagnosis, it becomes an opportunity to test their ninja skills.
Such was the case for Julie Aigner Clark, the founder of Baby Einstein, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and has since created Cancer Assassin, an organization designed to support a cure for cancer.
If anyone can create a successful brand, it’s most definitely Aigner, the originator of Baby Einstein books, videos and toys. After leaving her high school English teaching job to stay home with her baby, one of her priorities was to teach her daughter about the things she loved most---music and literature. When she found nothing on the market to support her small-scale mission, she made it her large-scale mission to create a brand that my kids in particular became completely engaged in.
They loved the calming videos with very simple beautiful photography, classical music, and stimulating video footage of all sorts, including the use of puppets. Come to think of it, we got through “potty” training my son by offering a new Baby Einstein puppet from the videos a few times as a gift for his mindfulness surrounding our small-scale mission to stop buying diapers.
Eventually, after Aigner built it up to a multimillion-dollar company, she sold it to Disney. Since then, that media category, which did not exist before Aigner filled the need, is now a tremendously influential market with many products inspired by Baby Einstein.
Aigner’s next mission was “The Safe Side,” which she created after having another child and they started school. Aigner discovered yet another untapped market---teaching kids about safety through entertainment. She teamed up with John Walsh (host of America’s Most Wanted) and her pair of DVDs won an Emmy Award in children’s programming. All of the net proceeds supported the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
And now for some proof that “bad” things can happen to “good” people. When she was 37, she was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. Post-surgery, she spent the next four years cancer-free. But again in 2008, it returned and her new diagnosis revealed stage 4 breast cancer had metastasized to her liver. By then, she was 42 and completely pissed off when doctors gave her less than a year to live.
Instead of succumbing to depression or anxiety, she decided to fight. The Cancer Assassin website quotes, “I adopted the term cancer assassin then, because I was going to do everything in my power to kill what was trying to kill me. I knew I might die anyway, but I was ready to fight. This is the attitude of a cancer assassin.
“I had surgery to remove the breast tumor and lymph nodes, and started chemo. I did a lot of reading and improved my already pretty healthy diet, started yoga and meditation. Found the best oncologist around. Wore hats and wigs and looked pretty sick for a while. And then I went in for a post-chemo PET scan and was told there was no evidence of cancer in my body anymore. I was, indeed, a cancer assassin.”
She also had another round of surgery to remove her ovaries and avoid more problems, and then became part of a clinical trial conducted at the University of Washington.
“I continue to swallow medication and lots of supplements,” she says. “I go to the infusion center every three weeks to receive a drug called Herceptin, which I’ll likely do for the rest of my life. It’s okay. I’m happy to take it. I’m here.”
Her chosen method of helping others kick cancer’s butt is to sell clothing with the Cancer Assassin logo and funnel 100 percent of the net proceeds into the efforts of Dr. Nora Disis, an American Cancer Society funded grantee. Dr. Disis is with the tumor vaccine group at the University of Washington, where her work centers on cancer and immunotherapy.
Aigner adds, “It’s my belief, as a cancer assassin who participated in a clinical trial that used immunotherapy, that it’s the future of the fight. It makes sense. It uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer, which is a hell of a lot better than pushing poison (known as chemotherapy) through a patient’s veins. How incredible will it be when we live in a world where ‘chemo’ is just a historical term?
“Immunotherapy is a new class of cancer treatment that works to harness the innate powers of the immune system to fight cancer. Because of the immune system's unique properties, these therapies may hold greater potential than current treatment approaches to fight cancer more powerfully, to offer longer-term protection against the disease, to come with fewer side effects, and to benefit more patients with more cancer types.”
There isn’t any doubt in my mind that Aigner’s cancer “opportunity” has already spilled over and will help save the lives of many others.