Everything is easier together
The start-up YouCan! supports children, teenagers, and young adults with cancer
They tend to lie in hospital beds, pull the blankets over their heads, and retreat. Being diagnosed with cancer is a severe blow and a life-changing event, especially for young people. Using an app, the Berlin-based start-up YouCan! wants to support them to connect with others affected, process their experiences, and find new hope.
Having cancer can be an extreme psychological experience. All too often, the roughly 2,000 children and teenagers with cancer in Germany are left alone with their worries. This is what Janina Krassa, a paediatric nurse, experienced again and again at a children’s cancer ward in Berlin. Teenagers at the hospital fall silent because they can’t find a way to process their emotions and experiences. Only sometimes, late at night, they would confide in her and talk about their hopelessness and their fear of death. “This touched me deeply and made me think. The medical care here is the gold standard but mental healthcare often falls behind.”
What can be done to support affected individuals? “When they’re awake, they spend 90% of the time on their phones,” says Krassa, sharing her observations. This gave her an idea. She enrolled in the psychology programme at Freie Universität Berlin (FU) and, in 2019, founded YouCan! – a start-up that is developing a research-based app for psycho-social support for children, teenagers, and young adults with cancer. The team received financial support through the Berlin Startup Scholarship as well as the EXIST Business Start-up Grant.
The app encourages documenting one’s experiences and emotions. Simply worded texts inform about the disease, treatment methods, and prognosis. “We interviewed the teenagers and asked: What do you need? What are your problems? Based on what they said, we developed more and more features,” says Krassa.
The beating heart of the YouCan! app is the chat. Here, users can search for others affected and talk about their experiences. This is particularly important because these children and teenagers rarely know people of the same age who understand their worries and fears. “Other cancer patients know how you feel after chemotherapy, when your hair falls out, or what helps with the nausea. This is valuable both in terms of information and social support,” explains the psychologist. The low-barrier nature of the app makes it easier for users to overcome social anxiety. “These teenagers are going through puberty. They don’t tend to walk out onto the hospital corridor saying: Hi, my name is Kai. Are you sick, too? Wanna talk? With offerings like ours, making contact can be made considerably easier.”
“Many in our team have had cancer or have had family or friends with cancer,” says the head of YouCan!. “We have experienced first-hand how straining it is to be sick and do not want young people to be alone with their diagnosis, their therapy, and their battle against cancer.” The YouCan! team is currently using spaces at the so-called Founder’s Villa, a mansion on the FU campus used by young spin-offs, and is testing the functionality of the app with 30 beta testers to see how they react. By the end of this year, the application will be made available in Germany. To ensure funding and thus the long-term operation of the YouCan! app, the non-profit YouCan! gGmbH is currently looking for strategic partners.
Nora Lessing for POTENZIAL