Diagnosed with colon cancer 18 months ago, Julie Yip-Williams may have been dealt a cruel blow, but she has mustered the strength to work towards a worthy legacy. The 39-year-old, who is a wife and busy mother of two young daughters, has focused her energy on becoming a fund-raiser. As Yip-Williams notes, colon cancer may be the second leading cause of cancer deaths for men and women combined, still research is vastly under-funded.

“I never thought I’d be the type to ask for money,” Yip-Williams tells Medical Daily. “And then I got cancer.” While at first she resisted, she soon discovered she was perfectly qualified for this necessary if unattractive job. “To be a fund raiser, you kind of need thick skin, you kind of have to have some conections, you've got to be, like, unafraid to ask for money, you've got to be unafraid to be told 'no' to your face,” she says. “I realized I had all those things.”

Wisely, she chose Chris4Life Colon Cancer Foundation as a partner in her efforts. The crucial factor that decided her was that Chris4Life already solicits money for research and has been hugely successful in its efforts. In a matter of five years, the small non-profit has raised more than $5 million dollars. Before she made the leap, Yip-Williams investigated all the existing organizations for colon cancer yet none of them placed an emphasis on research, instead they focused on awareness or education. "For me none of that matters," Yip-Williams says, explaining her sole purpose is to find a cure: "Isn’t that the ultimate objective? That’s all that we want, we want to live.” 

The Right Stuff

To hear Michael Sapienza, president and founder of Chris4Life tell it, Yip-Williams immediately presented herself as a vital contributor to his organization and the colon cancer community. “I sit down with patients a lot and I sit down with patients who want to raise money a lot and some will only want to help with this or that,” Sapienza says. “When I sat down with Julie, she said, ‘I want to raise $1 million for research.’" He pauses here to laugh. "And I actually believed her.”

After friendly meetings and some necessary due diligence, Yip-Williams created a separate account at Chris4Life for her fund. She chose this method instead of, say, creating her own non-profit or some other form of separate legal entity because she didn’t want any additional expenses or overhead. “I was very determined that all, 100 percent of that money, had to go into research,” Yip-Williams, who is a corporate lawyer, tells Medical Daily. As arranged, any money she raises will be earmarked for her fund and placed under restrictions requiring it be used for research alone. When it comes time to spend the money, the medical advisory board, which voluntarily serves Chris4Life, will evaluate all the grant proposals and make the crucial decisions about which projects merit funding.

Sapienza, who founded Chris4Life after his mother died of colon cancer at the age of 59, had done his own share of scrutiny. Before he established his non-organization, he looked at both the colon cancer landscape and other successful non-profits and immediately saw "a huge need."

"There’s not a lot of money out there to fund these early high risk projects," Sapienza tells Medical Daily. While the mission of Chris4Life includes raising awareness and improving the lives of patients, it's first stated goal is "to find a cure for colon cancer by funding and facilitating cutting edge research programs across the nation." To this end, Sapienza operates the research-funding portion of Chris4Life "similar to how venture capital works." In other words, his organization seeks to provide money for the new and possibly unusual preclinical research, the risky groundfloor project that just might work. "If we fund 10 of them, nine may not get off the ground but one of them might," he says. 

The dream of finding a cure, then, is fuel for both Yip-Williams and Sapienza. While he is upbeat about both the partnership and the future, Sapienza recognizes his dear friend has been feeling down recently — feeling all-too mortal. Unlike Yip-Williams who is all about statistics ("she is a lawyer," he says), Sapienza, a musician, has faith she will be around for a long time to come. She's too wonderful, he says, she's doing so much to help other people, that inevitably will prolong her life. Besides, he says, she's gone "beyond the odds" in other ways, it's only natural she will do so once again.

Courtesy of Vimeo and Sapienza, you can see Yip-Williams tell her story in the video below:      

Part 3 in a Series of 3 articles.