Lighting the Night to fight blood cancers
Mike Barrett's life is inextricably tethered to blood cancers, both personally and professionally.
The West Linn resident and chief executive of Unosquare (a Lake Oswego-based software development firm) has lost two family members to the horrific diseases that will take the lives of more than 58,000 people in the United States this year alone.
On July 7, 1995, Barrett's first wife, Lisa, passed away from Hodgkins Lymphoma. The couple, who had been married for eight years, had two sons who were 2 and 5 years old at the time.
"That kind of experience can really mess you up," Barrett says, "and it did mess me up for a while."
Eventually, Barrett was able to move past the loss of his wife. He married his second wife, Donna, and the couple had two more children. But in 2007, cancer again touched Barrett's life when multiple myeloma took his father Gary, a retired sergeant with the Los Angeles Police Department.
Those losses had a profound effect on Barrett. But in that pain, he decided he wouldn't just sit back and watch other families go through what he had experienced.
"I got to this point in my life where I wanted to start giving back, to start fighting," he says. "Blood cancer has run in my family, so I decided that when I got to this point where I could give time, energy and money, that's what I would do."
Barrett decided to get involved with fundraising efforts for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to defeat blood cancers and enrich the lives of families fighting the diseases.
That involvement has led Barrett to participate in the LLS' annual "Light the Night" walk, which is hosted at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry. Cancer patients, survivors, families and friends gather at the event to honor and celebrate the lives of those currently fighting cancer and those whose lives were lost. Illuminated lanterns signify each participant's relationship to the cause.
This year's event is scheduled from 5-8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14. It will begin at OMSI (1945 Water Ave., Portland) and cross over the Willamette River via the Tilikum Crossing pedestrian bridge.
"It's phenomenally emotional," Barrett says. "We're going to walk across the Tilikum Bridge with thousands of people. They're going to light fireworks off a barge in the Willamette River, and all the patients at OHSU will be able to look down and see all the people supporting their fight against cancer."
For Barrett, Light the Night has become a way to stay connected to both his first wife and his father by helping to raise funds that go directly toward research and innovation in the battle against blood cancers. Last month, he held a charity event in West Linn that raised $5,000 for his Light the Night team, which includes 25 people who will join him on the walk over the Tilikum Crossing this Saturday.
Barrett also serves on the board of trustees for the LLS chapter that includes Oregon, Southwest Washington, Idaho and Montana. In that role, he participated last weekend in a Light the Night event in Boise to help recruit and attract other business and community leaders to join LLS in the fight against blood cancers.
He says he believes LLS is an organization worthy of his time, resources and money because it has proven that its fundraising efforts have had a huge impact on the advancement of blood cancer research and innovation over the years.
"Twenty-two years ago, when they treated my wife, they gave her four different drugs. They gave everyone the same cocktail. Now it's completely different. Now, they would clone her DNA and look for a genetic deviation and create a cocktail just for her," he says. "Through research, they've realized that with immunotherapy and gene-inhibitors, at the genetic level they can treat an individual's cancer in an individual way."
As chief executive officer and co-founder of Unosquare, Barrett's professional life is also deeply rooted in the fight against cancer. A large percentage of Unosquare's work revolves around cancer diagnostics and the engineers who build software for predictive analytics specific to the cancer research field.
"There's tremendous synergy between my work life and my personal life," Barrett says. "I have clients that are involved with LLS, and if they're not, I ask them to be involved because we're all in the same fight."
For more information on Light the Night or to register for Saturday evening's event, visit www.lightthenight.org. To join Mike Barrett's Light the Night team or donate to it, visit pages.lightthenight.org/oswim/PortlndL17/mbarrett
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Light the Night, a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Oregon, Southwest Washington, Idaho and Montana
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 14, from 5-8 p.m.
WHERE: Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, 1945 S.E. Water Ave., Portland
DETAILS: For more information about Light the Night or to register for Saturday's event, visit www.lightthenight.org. To donate to Mike Barrett's Light the Night team, visit pages.lightthenight.org/oswim/PortlndL17/mbarrett