No Medicine Like Hope

A game gives voice to cancer patients, doctors, and caregivers. Tap to read.

For seven years, Maryann Wahmann—whose story is featured in the new app Galaxies of Hope—suffered from a series of symptoms including severe abdominal pain and chronic diarrhea. She saw doctors constantly, but no one knew what exactly was wrong with her.

Some told her she was turning her body against itself. She needed to calm down, they’d say. Others thought her problem was dietary and prescribed more fiber. One physician suggested her ailments were caused by an unhappy marriage. “They told me that while my husband was holding my hand,” she says.

After years of inconclusive medicine and misdiagnosis, Wahmann learned she had carcinoid cancer, a type of neuroendocrine tumor (NET) that’s difficult to detect and presents in myriad ways. It often leaves patients feeling confused and frustrated from going so long without the proper treatment, and alone from asking so many questions without receiving useful answers.

Wahmann, who has dedicated her life to NET advocacy, founded the Neuroendocrine Cancer Awareness Network in 2003. She says between 70 percent and 80 percent of NET cases are initially treated for the wrong disease. After playing the game in depth, she thinks Galaxies of Hope, developed by Numinous Games in partnership with pharmaceutical company Novartis, is one of the best tools yet for understanding the disease.

The power of perspective

Numinous creative director Ryan Green calls Galaxies of Hope an interactive audio documentary. In the app, you experience the journey of a NET diagnosis through three points of view: patient, caregiver, and physician. Over the past year, Green’s wife and Numinous collaborator, Amy, interviewed more than a dozen people whose lives are affected by NET. From over 1,000 hours of audio, the pair strung together short clips to tell a story alongside watercolor-like visuals.

You begin in a forest, represented by a glowing ball of light that leaves a trail in its wake, like a comet. The sky is layered with gray and white clouds. A hint of sunshine peeks through. As you travel to far-flung and fractured worlds, each of which deals with a theme germane to NET, your illuminated avatar gains perspective by listening to the testimonials.

It meant so much to tell our own story through this medium that we started thinking about how we could share the stories of others.

—Amy Green, Numinous Games

The patient trajectory in the app includes information on “sorting good and bad information” and “facing fear.” Caregivers journey through “feeling burned out” and “advocating for a patient.” Physicians explore the notions of “building trust” and “acknowledging shortcomings.” The app fosters a sense of solidarity, community, and understanding in the face of a disease that can make the people who deal with it feel increasingly isolated.

A platform for support

Ryan and Amy Green are known for That Dragon, Cancer, their 2016 game that chronicles the life and death of their 5-year-old son, Joel from the disease. While the couple never planned to design a second app about cancer, Novartis’ offer to create Galaxies of Hope proved to be too important to turn down.

“It meant so much to be able to tell our own story through this medium,” Amy says, “that we started thinking about how we could share the stories of others.”

The Greens say the app is for education within the NET community, helping those involved see the point of views of others in the process with greater clarity. “Here’s a chance to see the subtleties,” Amy says.

    Galaxies of Hope

    A NET Patient Journey.