Theme: Designing with Compassion

Imagine using an app on your phone to make yourself harder to kill. It’s not as much of a stretch as you may think. ‘Harder to kill’ is the tried-and-tested mantra fuelling Cancer Dojo, a cancer-support app conceived by brain-cancer survivor Conn Bertish. With a background as an award-winning creative director in the advertising industry, Bertish has loaded his digital tool with fun, play-fueled, inventive ways that help people take control of their own cancer journey and change their viewpoint from that of ‘victim’ to one of ‘warrior’. Bertish used many of the exercises now available on the app during his seven-year journey to becoming cancer-free. They’re based on the science of psychoneuroimmunology (how the mind affects one’s health) and include games, thinking techniques, visualization exercises and other activities to supplement medical treatment. “It’s about immersing yourself in the healing and turning yourself from a helpless patient to someone who participates in their own healing, together with the medicine,” Bertish explains of the role of the app. Cancer Dojo defies the general fear-induced mindset of hearing one has cancer and presents a more empowered line of thought: I’m not going to let the cancer happen to me; I’m going to happen to the cancer! “When we are helpless, our immune systems are compromised, but when we are actively involved, we build our resiliency and give ourselves the chance of a more positive outcome,” says Bertish. The Cancer Dojo app, which was launched last year, includes 16 themed levels that relate to behavioural change. Bertish’s own voice is used throughout the levels, enthusiastically guiding users through stages such as ‘document your journey’ and ‘living with purpose’. “It’s like a cancer coach in your pocket,” he explains. “It guides you to think differently about your disease and gives you tasks to do.” This includes considerations around diet, social interactions and the way one views cancer treatment. Chemotherapy, for instance, takes on new meaning through a nifty visualisation technique where one could imagine it as water being sprayed to kill garden weeds. The exercises get people to use metaphors related to the things they enjoy – if not gardening, then golf (you are the golf club; the cancer as the ball) or cooking (imagining every ingredient as a powerful tool to combat unhealthy cells). “It’s an always-on, playful way to approach mindfulness,” says the inventor. Besides Bertish’s own input, over 300 creatives from the around the globe have contributed illustrations, imagery and video content for Cancer Dojo, making it a universal project grown in South Africa. The Cancer Dojo app is available for free until the end of June, thanks to sponsorship from Sanlam, and can also be gifted to loved ones who need support.

100 Beautiful Things is presented by the V&A Waterfront in celebration of South Africa’s creativity, compassion, ingenuity and resilience. Every week we will be showcasing five amazingly beautiful creative things that make us proud. It is curated in partnership with Platform Creative.