LIVESTRONG, the Austin-based cancer patient advocacy group founded by Lance Armstrong, has seen some challenging times in recent years. Despite their founder’s foibles, LIVESTRONG remains one of the most effective cancer patient advocacy groups in the nation. Undeterred by bad press or personal shortcomings, this Austin nonprofit has been undergoing a rebuilding period, bringing in a new CEO to refashion and refocus LIVESTRONG into an even more powerful force for patients.
Austin.com: Tell us a little about your personal history. Where are you from? Where did you attend college, and what did you study? What got you interested in your current field of work?
Chandini Portteus: I was born in Chennai, India, but raised most of my life in Dallas. When I was fourteen I began working as a volunteer in a hospital and have been involved in the healthcare field ever since. When I thought about medicine and science and what I wanted to do when I grew up, I knew I was passionate about caring for patients and realized there were so many ways to do that. Of great interest to me was public health.
I loved the idea not only of serving people individually, but being able to make changes within systems so we could break down barriers of disease that people face. I pursued a liberal arts education at Austin College and earned degrees in psychology and biology and then a master’s in Public Health from University of Texas Houston School of Public Health.
Prior to being named president and CEO at the LIVESTRONG Foundation, I worked at Susan G. Komen for nearly 10 years within different areas of mission, as served ultimately as Chief Mission Officer. I also have a background in pharmaceutical for profit work and various roles with the university public health and research systems.
Why does LIVESTRONG appeal to you? Which of this organization’s accomplishments excited you the most when you began interviewing for the CEO position?
LIVESTRONG has always been there for patients, survivors and caregivers, and has served it mission diligently and with impact for many. I wanted to be a part of taking that further. The foundation set has been amazing in terms of public health reach with support for cancer patients throughout the continuum of their care and survivorship experience. I couldn’t see a better place to bring my talents and leadership to a group of people who are so dedicated to fulfilling this mission. The potential I saw and the opportunity to take that and lead it forward is something I’m honored and excited to have. In addition, the culture, passion and spirit of the team, volunteers and donors are entrepreneurial and infectious, and a great fit for me personally.
What are your goals for the organization?
LIVESTRONG uniquely has a voice about it that is a patient advocate first. When you think about the voices that come out to support in policy, direct service and education, LIVESTRONG has done this and I look forward to helping them take these efforts further. It’s very clear that there are so many challenges we have to meet. LIVESTRONG has always been there for patients and survivors and we’ve been so good at partnering with other organizations to continue the work.
We need to continue this collaborative spirit to take our ideas and efforts further — we know we can’t do this alone. We still need to find a solution to get everyone equal access to treatment, which unfortunately is not a reality today. We’ll be working diligently to focus on and change that issue among many others. That is just one of the many focus areas within the LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes.
LIVESTRONG’s founder, Lance Armstrong, was in the news recently for contributing to the annual Team LIVESTRONG Challenge here in Austin. What are LIVESTRONG’s thoughts on this?
We welcome all contributions to the LIVESTRONG Foundation as we continue our work to improve the lives of people affected by cancer now. This includes the recent contribution by Lance Armstrong, as part of his efforts to fundraise for the annual Team LIVESTRONG Challenge Austin. He has signed up to ride in our annual event with his own team as the ride is open to participants nationwide. As a foundation, LIVESTRONG will always be grateful to him as our founder and for the work that he has done on cancer advocacy and awareness.
What does Austin mean to LIVESTRONG, and how is the organization giving back to the community?
The LIVESTRONG Foundation has been deeply ingrained in the Austin community since it was created in 1997 at Z Tejas on 6th Street (in fact, we still have the table and chairs where it was conceived in our office). Last year in partnership with the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin, we created the LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes, which is focused on developing and implementing original models of patient-centered cancer care. Those efforts will begin here in Central Texas and we intend to build an ecosystem that can be scaled and replicated not just in the US, but hopefully around the world in cancer care.
This year, we’re looking at the needs of cancer patients and survivors in Central Texas. We are focused on new outreach including additional community navigators, new partnerships and educational groups that bring our services directly to the people who need them. Additionally, LIVESTRONG will be hosting our annual Austin Challenge ride, and we are excited that we have added a Kid’s Ride to bring more families into our community. We are also looking at additional meet-ups and outreach to educate the wider community about cancer and bring awareness to our free, bilingual services for those dealing with cancer now.
I am eager to begin spending more time here in Austin meeting community leaders and those who use our services. I look forward to helping spread the message about LIVESTRONGand to engaging even more of the local audience with our Foundation.
On the personal side, my husband, Andrew Portteus, is an esteemed adult, child and adolescent psychiatrist with a thriving practice in Dallas who will maintain his practice in Dallas, while also establishing professional roots in Austin. I think Austin will benefit to have his expertise here as well. We have four young children and we are excited relocate to Austin this summer. The whole family is thrilled to be moving to Austin with its high energy, fun neighborhoods, outdoor activities and of course, the great food and music. Thank you for being so welcoming and supportive. We are excited to see the many great things we can do together in this community.
Thanks, Chandini! And good luck.
For more about Chandini, watch this video produced by LIVESTRONG…
Photo: Flickr user Margaretglln, creative commons licensed.