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Starting a Charity while Fighting Cancer: How Gloria Borges started The Wunder Project

by Elizabeth Falke on February 27, 2013

Gloria BorgesGloria Borges is a woman on a mission. By day, she’s a rising star in the legal field, a promising attorney who works in business trial and litigation for O’Melveny & Myers, one of the biggest law firms in the world. But it’s at night, when she dons her superhero cape, that you’ll see her real powers. Unlike Clark Kent’s transformation into Superman, Borges isn’t fighting crime: she’s fighting cancer.

“Radiation Round 8 and Chemo Round 44. Let’s do this. Cancer, you should probably give up now because I never will,” read Borges’s Facebook status a few weeks ago. Cancer should be scared.

If this was all there was to know about Borges, it would be enough to fill out an impressive résumé many times over. But this isn’t all there is… not even close.

Fighting Cancer

Borges’s battle against cancer began in 2010. She’d been suffering from gastrointestinal problems for months, but never thought the situation was serious enough to seek medical treatment. “Like most people, [I] just chalked it up to eating something that didn’t agree with me or taxing my body too much,” Borges, a diehard basketball fan who loves to pound the hardwood, told me recently.

But it wasn’t nothing.

On September 12, 2010, Borges finally went to the hospital, but early tests proved inconclusive. It took six days for doctors to come back with their diagnosis – colon cancer – but the real bomb was still to come. The next day, following exploratory surgery, Borges learned she had Stage IV cancer. Her prognosis was grim; her doctors gave her only months to live. She was 28 years old.

“Even on that day, a day when I could’ve cried or screamed or asked ‘Why me?’, I did none of those things. I laughed, I smiled, I plotted and planned, and I kissed and hugged. I was filled with hope, with strength, with courage, and with love,” she wrote of her ordeal on her blog, WunderGlo, which she began just three weeks after receiving the earth-shattering news. When I interviewed her for this article earlier this month, she echoed those original thoughts. “From the beginning, though, I always felt a sense of peace and was focused on beating the disease… I rolled with the punches,” she recounted.

Starting a Charity

Borges’s first punch in her fight against cancer was assembling a top-notch medical team. That search ultimately led her to Dr. Heinz-Josef Lenz, one of the nation’s foremost experts in colon cancer treatment and research.

I want you to remember that word – research – because it’s going to play a major role in Borges’s fight.

In the five months following her diagnosis, she underwent multiple surgeries, treatments, and therapies to battle the cancer devouring her insides. It was after the biggest of these – an 11-hour, 17-procedure surgery headed up by Dr. Paul Sugarbaker – that Borges started thinking outside her ailing body and saw the big picture.

“I was healing up from that surgery and thinking of all the things I would do when I was cleared for physical activity,” Borges remembers. “I thought that I’d run a 5K for colon cancer research and awareness, and found that there weren’t any 5Ks – or events for colon cancer in general – in L.A. or anywhere else I searched in California. At that moment, I knew what I needed to do.”

What Borges “needed to do” was no small feat. In that moment, she decided she would start a charity devoted to fighting cancer.

Have a Team to Help Your Goals

To help set up her charity, Borges contacted her colleagues at O’Melveny & Myers, who helped her wade through the complicated paperwork associated with starting a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Next, she gathered a team of family and friends – all impressive professionals in their own rights – to serve on her charity’s Board of Directors and Advisory Board. Just nine months after the diagnosis that changed her life, Borges launched a charity she hoped would change the lives of everyone battling colon cancer: The WunderGlo Foundation.

In September 2011 – the month that marked the first anniversary of her diagnosis – The WunderGlo Foundation held its first event. In its first year alone, the charity raised more than $100,000, which went to colon cancer research. That included $50,000 – the Foundation’s first major grant – to the USC GI Oncology Program at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, led by her oncologist, Dr. Lenz, who also serves as a director on the Foundation’s board.

Keep Thinking Big

Since Borges launched The WunderGlo Foundation more than a year and a half ago, she’s learned what it takes to start a charity with staying power: creativity, teamwork, and focus. Now, she’s putting those lessons to use with a whole new mission.

On February 19th, Borges began her newest initiative: The Wunder Project. The project once again brings Borges and Dr. Lenz together with one goal in mind: to cure colon cancer. The patient/doctor team is also working with six top professionals for the medical field, as well as key supporters like Duke University men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski (Borges is a 2004 Duke graduate, and perhaps the world’s biggest Blue Devil fan) to raise a quarter billion dollars over the next decade. Every single dollar raised through The Wunder Project will go directly to cancer research. “We are cutting out the middleman,” Borges says on the Project’s new website. “[It's] just one courageous, badass woman, her doctor, and everyone who decides to join the fight.”

It’s a lot to take on for a woman who is employed by one of the world’s top law firms, continues fighting cancer on a daily basis, and still enjoys a game of pick-up basketball whenever she can fit it in. But The WunderGlo Foundation has become, in its own way, a cathartic outlet for Borges.

“I think it’s helped me remember that the fight isn’t just about me,” she told me. “Obviously, I’m concerned for my own welfare and very focused on beating the disease in my own body, but my work with the Foundation has helped me connect with so many other cancer warriors and that has been truly satisfying. Helping others has made my colon cancer experience not frightening, but fulfilling.”

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