His quest to help people would lead him to complete his M.D. at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and his Masters in Public Health at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Not only has he helped people as a practicing physician, he wrote “Navigating the Code: Transforming the Patient-Physician Journey”, a look at how healthcare can be improved for many through the power of information technology as its greatest problem-solver. He is currently President of DocsNetwork Ltd. and previously worked with the National Institutes of Health, UK National Health Service, McKesson, Infor, and Salesforce/Tableau.
But there’s Barry’s personal journey that ran like a necessary current alongside his desire to help others too.
He watched his father endure and eventually die from prostate cancer at age 63. The struggle remains clear in his mind. “He really, really suffered for three years with that cancer. And I said ‘I need to do something to get involved to honor him.’”
In 1985, Barry began his volunteer efforts and signed up to ride in the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), a 2 day 192 mile ride from Sturbridge in central Massachusetts to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod. Since its inception in 1980, the PMC has given more than $900 million to the Dana-Farber Cancer institute (DFCI) . The DFCI is ranked as the #4 cancer center in the world. In 2022, the PMC gave $69 million to DFCI with 100% of every dollar raised by the 5,000+ riders going directly to the DFCI’s charity arm, the Jimmy Fund. The PMC raises more money than any other athletic charity in the U.S.
His nearly 40-year span of participating as a rider in the PMC strengthened his resolve by watching children and young adults at the finish line, or along the routes, cheer him on with signs depicting their thanks. His passion to ride to raise money is reflected back on those faces – their hope and determination to live life with cancer, to see another day, month, year.
Eventually, Barry himself was diagnosed twice with cancer, first in 2017 with prostate cancer and again in 2021 with a rare but treatable lymphoma. As a two-time survivor, he not only understands the physician’s journey, but better sees how the patient needs and deserves support, physically and emotionally.
Barry’s enthusiasm for giving back is personal, yet compassionate, as he’s been on both sides of the coin – as doctor and patient. “When you get that diagnosis, you feel completely lost. You have no control over anything. It’s in your physician’s hands, your therapist’s hands. You don’t know what the future is. By getting involved in an event like this, you feel that you have some control over what might happen to you.”
Return on Good: What is your philosophy of philanthropy?
Dr. Chaiken: When I think of being a philanthropist, I think about being part of my neighborhood, my community, my state, my country, and frankly, my world. But you have to be part of that larger community, and that means giving back, doing things that make the community, make the people around you, the people you know and the people you don’t know, better off. Philanthropy is part of that philosophy. Because that’s the legacy you have to offer. Now I’m not in a position where I have tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. So I can’t build a a new building for a hospital or create a school for people who might need special education. But I can do my little thing in my little space being focused to make a contribution and be a philanthropist.
Return on Good: What is the Pan-Mass Challenge?
Dr. Chaiken: It started in 1980 by a man named Billy Starr, who had several family members who died from cancer. And he was very much struck by it. But if you go back to that time, there weren’t a lot of people who were biking. But he was a cyclist. He had some friends who rode bikes. And they started a trip from western Massachusetts, all the way out to Provincetown, and that was over 200 miles. They all got lost. There weren’t any maps. Nobody had any cell phones at that time. In the last 40 plus years, they’ve raised $900 million for cancer research, which is an incredible feat. When I go out and ask my friends and my colleagues and even strangers for a dollar or $10, $100 or $1,000 and say, I’d like you to give it to the Pan-Mass Challenge, they know that every single dollar that they donate goes directly to Dana-Farber, the Jimmy Fund, for their research and for their care. And what’s really brilliant about what PMC did was they have built the fundraiser over time. And they’ve managed to get the funds, the donations, the supplies, the food to run the event so that none of the riders or the donors will have to take any of their money in the running of the event, because an event like this with 5,000 plus riders and 3,000, 4,000 volunteers takes a lot of effort, a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of materials. They said we are going to make sure we’ll do that work to make sure the event is funded and can take off so that the riders can focus on raising money.
Dr. Chaiken: Dana Farber is one of about 12 major cancer centers in the United States. And let me start first by telling you that if you think cancer is a death sentence, you’re not paying attention. Cancer is becoming a chronic disease and every day it becomes more and more of a chronic disease. People live with cancer in old age today. It isn’t like it was when my dad got prostate cancer. There are so many more treatments. There are so many more diagnostic tests. So why Dana-Farber? I’m in Boston. Dana-Farber is in Boston. Pan-Mass Challenge is connected to Dana-Farber. So I was being treated for my blood cancer – a rare lymphoma, very rare, 3 per 1 million. And I was on a clinical trial with monoclonal antibodies. And I said to myself, this is crazy. I’m going to be treated at Dana Farber. I’ve been riding all these years. I didn’t know that all that effort that I was putting in (riding in the PMC) was going to be helping me.
Dana Farber gives people hope if they have cancer. By getting involved in an event like this, you feel that you have some control over what might happen to you. If you have a loved one and you volunteer or you ride in the PMC, if you get involved in any type of event or any type of philanthropic activity, you feel you are part of it and it gives you hope that you’re making a difference in making things better that goes above and beyond the money that is raised and such. And that’s why being involved in philanthropy is so incredibly important because it makes you part of the solution that can save people’s lives, that can improve education, that can improve healthcare, that can do things to make the world around you better, you’re involved in it. It’s the involvement that really matters.
Interested in hearing more about Dr. Barry Chaiken’s story or hearing him speak? You can reach him at email@example.com
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