Ignite Carroll speaker enlists apps in cancer fight

A slide from Alissa Harrington's Ignite Carroll presentation, "A Smart APProach to Cancer: How one woman is using apps to cope with her cancer diagnosis."
A slide from Alissa Harrington's Ignite Carroll presentation, "A Smart APProach to Cancer: How one woman is using apps to cope with her cancer diagnosis."(Alissa Harrington)

When Alissa Harrington was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38, she did what she's accustomed to doing when she needs answers. She reached for her smartphone.

The Stevenson University technology professional says mobile apps helped her overcome one of the biggest burdens for anyone confronting a life-threatening illness: Managing the deluge of medical records and appointments and communicating what comes out of those to friends and family.


"Mobile apps have really eliminated that," said Harrington, who as an instructional designer builds online courses and trains faculty how to apply technology to learning. "It's one less stressor in my life now."

While she's documented her five-month battle with stage 2 breast cancer on social media, Harrington, who is halfway through a six-session chemotherapy regimen, will publicly speak about it, and how technology has helped her through it, for the first time Thursday night at the inaugural Ignite Carroll, the second Baltimore-area chapter of the international presentation series whose tagline is "Enlighten us, but make it quick."


Nine others will join Harrington in talking about their personal and professional passions, from reforming education to the life lessons of hockey, for five minutes each using 20 slides that auto advance every 15 seconds.

The signature Ignite format is meant to get speakers to focus on what matters and to engage the audience on a variety of topics. Each Ignite event — they've been held in more than 100 cities — is independently run.

While Harrington's topic is the most tech-centric, Ignite Carroll's lineup, curated by organizer the Carroll Tech Council, includes some familiar faces from the regional tech scene. Baltimore Tech Breakfast organizer Ron Schmelzer, an Ignite Baltimore veteran, will open the 7:15 p.m. show at Westminster's Carroll Arts Center with "The Virtues of Failure." Washington angel investor and entrepreneur Glen Hellman, an Ignite DC veteran, will be presenting "What A Cranky Old Man Learned About Love, Life and Social Media from Match.com."

Vince Buscemi, vice chairman of the Tech Council's education committee, said the 9-year-old nonprofit sees Ignite Carroll, which it hopes to hold up to two times a year, as a vehicle to engage a broader community, both outside the tech sphere and outside Carroll County.

"The perception of Carroll County is kind of skewed for anyone who's not living in or from Carroll," Buscemi said. "People think it's all farmland."

Buscemi said he hopes attendees can see themselves in and emotionally connect with speakers' stories.

How many apps, or any given technology, for that matter, can prove useful beyond their primary audiences is among the themes Harrington wants her talk to impart.

"Once you figure out how to use an app, you can adapt it to meet your needs," she said, explaining how she now uses Evernote, a favorite tool for meeting notes, for doctor visit diaries, and uses Pinterest, the social pinboard best known for food, fashion and decorating inspiration, for collecting cancer and chemotherapy resources.

Harrington also plans to highlight apps designed specifically for patients like her, including iChemo Diary, which, among other features, sends doctors reports on side effects like nausea and fatigue, and MyMedical, a virtual medical record filing cabinet intended to replace patients' paper copies.

Such apps are part of the growing field of mobile health, or mHealth. Locally, companies and researchers in this sector have leveraged the ubiquity, interactivity and portability of mobile devices to help diabetics control their blood sugar and to monitor and try to prevent addict relapses. Johns Hopkins University is leading the effort to identify best practices in the nascent field.

Video of Harrington's and the other speakers' talks will be posted on the Tech Council's and Ignite's websites. To see them in-person, the cost is $5, with tickets available through Eventbrite. The event opens with a 6:30 p.m. reception.

Anyone interested in giving his or her own Ignite talk still has a couple weeks to pitch a presentation for the next Ignite Baltimore, set for March 28 at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

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