Oral History

On March 10, 2009, Paul Poth filed the first documents to create TargetCancer Foundation. Below are selected postings about TargetCancer Foundation’s founding from Paul’s Carepage, where he journaled his fight against cholangiocarcinoma, as well as words from those who were there with him.


Feb 27, 2009 8:09 pm | Posted by Paul Poth

Enough about MY cancer, now about cancer and the actions. Within the next week I will do what needs to be done to launch a charity called TargetCancer. I am going to try to raise funds for this for the sole purpose of distributing funds to Massachusetts General Hospital cancer research. More specifically, research into cancers that do not get enough funding. Yes, selfishly that means mine, but after I get better I will spread it around. The fact is that I have heard oncologists and nurses comment that almost too much is known about certain cancers whereas others simply languish. Researchers are working on the lesser cancers, but they need help. I want to spearhead that help.

To that end, while I am going to be crass and ask for straight up money donations, TargetCancer will also make a product — a music CD. Anyone within reach of this, please consider donating a CD ready song for inclusion on the CD. You will give up no rights to the song other than allowing it to be republished on the CD, which will then be sold through this site and anywhere else I can think of. All money generated from the sales, from cent one, will fund TargetCancer.

So there you go. Until I write again, may everyone stay happy and healthy.

Paul’s idea for music based fundraising eventually became The Right Track: Tunes to TargetCancer, a music based download series that directly raises funds for TargetCancer Foundation.

Charles Cheever, TargetCancer Foundation Board Member

Paul came to me shortly after he was diagnosed, and said that he had some bad news and some good news. Which did I want first? Fearing the bad news, and wanting to get that out of the way, I asked him to start with the bad stuff. He said that he’d discovered, in only the short period of time since his diagnosis, that the world of cancer research could be divided into two camps – the haves, and the have nots. If you were diagnosed with a common cancer, the dollars devoted to cutting edge research to find a cure were extraordinary. My notes indicate that he used the word “limitless,” which we all know is an exaggeration, but captures the disparity well. On the other hand, if you were diagnosed with a rare cancer, the dollars were almost nonexistent.  My notes say: “Paul says he is still optimistic about his chances, but this was a negative surprise.”

Being an optimistic guy, Paul wanted to get to the good news, and he said that he wanted to start a non-profit organization devoted to raising funds to find a cure for rare cancers, to “even the playing field,” as he put it. It was going to be his life’s work after he beat his own cancer, and he was uniquely positioned to make it successful given his contacts in the legal and business community. His excitement was contagious.  I left the call thinking that Paul was onto something really, really big. And I wanted to help.

Mar 24, 2009 8:18 pm | Posted by Paul Poth

I am pleased to report that TargetCancer is now TargetCancer, Inc. Additionally, we have a federal tax number. I am in the process of applying for tax exempt status so that donations will be tax deductible.

Donations?!? Indeed, without even asking $350.00 from three donors has already come in. The donations were all deposited into the TargetCancer, Inc. bank account today. So now, I make my pitch.

After the last post, 164 people checked the site for the update. I admit that I might be double counting some, but I am also sure that I am missing out on readers as I know that some people cut and paste the update to others. So let’s assume that the number is about 164. That is quite a number — you’ve become quite the community.

Now, the problem with my cancer (one of the problems) is that it is so uncommon. I was told at my diagnosis that I had a cancer that almost “no one gets” and certainly “nobody under 40”. Consequently, it receives very little research attention or dollars. Yet there is a fund established for it at MGH and indeed MGH has a doctor devoted to developing protocols for treatment. I want to help fund that research. And when I get better, I want to direct funds to other cancer research that explores other less popular cancers.

The CD and the ensuing concert will be another opportunity for fundraising for TargetCancer, but I confess that right now good ol’ cash (well checks) is the shot in the arm that we need. So please, if you can.

Many thanks, Paul.

Charles Cheever:

Paul created TargetCancer on his own, and we picked up the ball to get it recognized as a public charity to which contributions could be made on a tax-exempt basis. It took 3 months to get the Internal Revenue Service to approve TargetCancer as a charity, and then we were off.  We haven’t slowed down.

Apr 1, 2009 11:54 am | Posted by Paul Poth

TargetCancer is close to raising $2000 already, which is very exciting for me. There will be an opportunity to give on line but that might be a few weeks away. The website, though not yet engineered, will be TargetCancer.info (note the suffix “info” not “com”). EBAY has agreed to give us PayPal with non profit status once we provide the 501(c)(3) filing. I have to get that filed and then we are in business. I think TargetCancer can play a good role in pushing the cure over the top and down the other side.

Finally, let me say that the nervousness, interruption of normal life, drug treatments and constant low level crappy feeling is not great. But, where one has a why to live, one will endure almost any how. (paraphrase Nietzsche). I have plenty of why.

Special thanks to those who have already donated to TargetCancer.

Rachel Viscomi, Paul’s friend:

When Paul first mentioned that he wanted to found an organization to raise money to fund rare cancer research, I could hardly make sense of it. With so much going on – so many doctors’ appointments, treatments, tests, meetings, etc. and so many unknowns, it was almost unfathomable to imagine wanting to take on a new and complicated project. At the same time, it was utterly consistent with everything I knew to be true about Paul; his energy simply could not be contained. He was a force of nature. He was someone who brought people together and made things happen. For him to sit idle in the face of this disease would have been a betrayal of everything that made him Paul.


Apr 15, 2009 5:35 pm | Posted by Paul Poth

In good news, though there is some sprinkled in above I’d suggest, TargetCancer has gone past the $6,500 mark and is still going. Specifically, we have raised $6,838.00 from 37 donors. I am very touched by the outpouring of support. This Friday I am meeting with the head of molecular oncology at MGH and will decide how to distribute the first amount of money. I will, of course, let everyone know where it goes and why.

Michael Colombo, Original TargetCancer Foundation Webmaster:

TargetCancer exists as a testament to the indominability of Paul’s spirit. When I attended Paul’s memorial service, I was deeply saddened by the loss of my best friend. Over the course of that day I came to realize that I was far from the only person that felt the same. To put this in the data modelling terminology that always best captures matters of emotion, he had a rare ability (unique in my experience) to maintain one to many best friend joins like ours. His exuberant and infectious passion for life was contagious and inspiring. This expansive spirit renders his early passing all the more tragic. It also explains why it remains so important for those fortunate enough to have known him to continue to honor him and his memory by working on TargetCancer efforts.

Apr 30, 2009 9:01 am | Posted by Paul Poth

On other news, TargetCancer has passed $10,000 raised. The music committee is formed and has begun putting together music for the CD. Very exciting.

Jim Horan, Music Advisory Board member

We all got together at Paul’s house in Cambridge one night to talk about TargetCancer and Paul’s idea to have music play a role in raising funds for research. I was so impressed by how motivated and passionate he was about the whole project. Here was this guy fighting cancer, and he was focused on helping other people when he easily could have been focused on himself. It was inspiring.

Ed Valauskas, Music Advisory Board member

Paul was one of the smartest and funniest people I have ever met, and I miss him very much. He was also one of the most staunch supporters of local music, which is how we got to know one another. I remember sitting down with Paul and a mutual friend to discuss his concept of TargetCancer for the first time. Luckily, we were able to talk him out of actually pressing a “Benefit CD” and start an online, ongoing music site. In a relatively short amount of time, that is exactly what happened. I wish Paul was here today to see what a fantastic idea he had, and what a great job Kristen and Jim are doing to grow this dream of his into a very successful reality.


May 7, 2009 9:12 pm | Posted by Paul Poth

I visited with the head of the molecular research department today at MGH to see if the lab would be an appropriate place to donate TargetCancer funds. I am feeling very comfortable that it is. At the lab, more cancer cell lines are maintained and grown than in any other lab in the world. Molecular research is where the breakthroughs will come. Not likely to be “Eureka” moments, but slow and deliberate process.

Lastly, for the donors to TargetCancer — thank you so much. I know that no thank you letter has been sent. I am waiting for the 501(c)(3) to be complete so that information can be included. Probably a couple of months on that.

Here’s hoping the weather turns and we finally get into summer.

In May 2009, Paul made TargetCancer Foundation’s first grant of $7,500 to the Center for Molecular Therapeutics at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.

Jeff Settleman, PhD, then-Director of the Center for Molecular Therapeutics, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center

Paul’s generous gift is already being put to great use in our research program, and will undoubtedly help us to make those next vital discoveries that will lead to improved clinical outcomes for many of our patients. Although I only met Paul once, he certainly made a lasting impression with his genuine warmth and positive outlook. Hearing of his passing sadly reminds me that we still have important work to do- but I am certain that we are on the right track.

In 2012 TargetCancer announced the creation of the TargetCancer Foundation Cholangiocarcinoma Cell Line Bank, and since then, cholangiocarcinoma cell lines created from that program have been tested at the lab that Paul originally funded.

In 2015, Paul’s original goals came full circle as these cholangiocarcinoma cell lines were tested at the Center for Molecular Therapeutics, and showed sensitivity to an existing, FDA-approved drug used to treat leukemia. That discovery was fast tracked to a phase II clinical trial. Read the entire story here.

As of 2020, TargetCancer Foundation has provided over $1 million in rare cancer research funding, and has expanded its work significantly beyond research grant funding to to develop its own rare cancer research studies which are providing an immediate impact to those facing rare cancers today.