Drew Olanoff’s lighthearted anti-cancer  Twitter campaign took off when Lance Armstrong tweeted about it on June 4.
NBC News
updated 8/28/2009 1:09:51 PM ET 2009-08-28T17:09:51

Blame it on the rain. Blame it on the stars. And when there is nothing else to do, blame it on Drew.

More than 10,000 people have blamed more than 22,000 things on Drew Olanoff's cancer ever since he started #blamedrewscancer, the social-media Twitter campaign that unites online communities in the fight against cancer.

Olanoff, a 29-year-old San Francisco technology worker, was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma on May 20. Instead of panicking, he decided to turn his plight into one big practical joke. Now, what started as a clever gag is being used to combat not only his cancer, but everyone else's.

Olanoff knows all too well about how creativity in cyberspace can raise money for needy charities. In March, before he was diagnosed, Olanoff put out a challenge on Twitter: Whoever donates the most money to The Make-A-Wish Foundation would get their Twitter name tattooed on his arm. A man of his word, Olanoff now has @melaniemitchell plastered on his skin for life, and The Make-A-Wish Foundation has an extra $2,112 to make a sick child’s dream come true.

Once cancer became personal, Olanoff upped the ante and began a campaign on the microblogging site Twitter that would allow people to let off steam and “blame his cancer for stuff”.

“It [cancer] changes your perspective on everything. I fancied myself as someone who didn’t take things for granted, but I think once this all started happening I was like well I could do a little better job of that,” he says.

Coping mechanism
It all began as a coping mechanism. “When I got my diagnosis I blamed my cancer on my cancer.” Soon, he began to blame other things on his cancer to amuse both himself and others, and #blamedrewscancer was born.

The campaign's Facebook Cause Page has raised more than $3,000 that has gone to organizations such as the American Cancer Society and The Make-A-Wish Foundation. #blamedrewscancer also has its own Web site and recently embarked on a partnership with the Lance Armstrong Foundation and Livestrong, the racing cyclist's charity for people affected by cancer.

Olanoff’s word game was initially met by mixed reactions. His mother, Lynda Harrison, who is a nurse and Twitter fan, thought, “That’s a little irreverent … I am not sure about this, Andrew!” But she has since been won over by her son’s idea and now is his biggest supporter.

Olanoff’s tattoos, piercings and big stature may look intimidating, but it doesn’t take long for anyone to realize that he is just as his Mom describes him: “the most kind-hearted person you’d ever want to meet.”

As a cancer patient who knows the struggles all to well himself, Olanoff emphatically makes it clear: “I am not making fun of cancer.”

Olanoff didn’t have any expectations when he and his friend Mike, a Hodgkin's survivor as well, built the blamedrewscancer.com Web site. “I know how things on the Internet go and having done this for years and years, I thought, 'OK, my friends will get a kick out of this and support it and understand it and maybe for a day it will resonate.'”

Olanoff is pleased that the #blamedrewscancer Twitter campaign has taken off. He sees the movement as a way to “smack people in the face” with the word “cancer” so that everyone is forced to think about it. Olanoff wants everyone to know two important things about cancer: It isn’t always a death sentence, and there is still no cure.

Leading by example
“Drew is an amazing character,” says Jeff Pulver, a social-media guru who met Olanoff via the Internet and was impressed with him from the get-go. “He is an example and he is actually leading by example.”

Olanoff was invited to speak at Pulver’s “140 Character [Twitter] Conference." Shortly after Olanoff accepted the gig, he was diagnosed with cancer. It quickly became apparent to the conference organizer that Olanoff would speak on the social good panel to launch his already popular #blamedrewscancer initiative in an even bigger way. Olanoff traveled directly to the conference in New York City from a chemotherapy session in Philadelphia, where he is originally from. “I believe his voice is being heard by millions of people,” Pulver says.

The #blamedrewscancer idea really took off when Armstrong tweeted about it at 9:01 a.m. on June 4: “I blame Drew's cancer for my broken collarbone in Spain http://blamedrewscancer.com#blamedrewscancer.” In an instant, hundreds of thousands of people were aware of this new catchphrase and Olanoff quickly became an official fundraiser for Armstrong's charitable foundation.

Doug Ulman, president and CEO of the Lance Armstrong Foundation and a cancer survivor, found out about Olanoff’s campaign from colleague Brooke McMillan, Livestrong’s online community evangelist. “I think it’s a creative and innovative way to engage people in the fight against cancer,” Ulman said in an e-mail. He believes the partnership between Livestrong and #blamedrewscancer is a great fit because both organizations are known to “push the envelope in a way that grabs people’s attention about the global cancer epidemic. The more people who can help spotlight this disease, the more it cannot be ignored.”

McMillan is also excited about the partnership. “I think that people in this space [social networking] completely get it, it's sort of sarcasm …. it is a reminder that cancer is much bigger than losing your keys or breaking your collarbone.”

Blame game
People tweet about everything, what they are having for dinner, whom they are going to the movies with. Some, like Olanoff, even propose marriage on Twitter. In less than 140 characters, Olanoff took the plunge on June 30 and asked girlfriend Sarah Cooley to be his wife, and she tweeted back, of course!

Olanoff has had some crazy blames for his cancer. One of the coolest and oddest was when a friend videotaped rock star Jon Bon Jovi blaming Drew’s cancer for the Arena Football League folding. The list goes on, but for Olanoff the most touching show of solidarity and support is when people blame their cancer on his cancer.

On Sept. 9 (09-09-09), Olanoff will be hosting #blamedrewscancer’s first "Blame-A-Thon" in Philadelphia. The occasion, sponsored by the genetic-testing company 23andme, will be streamed live on the Internet. Every time someone blames something on Drew’s cancer and tweets #23andme, the company will donate $1 to Livestrong.

The Blame-A-Thon promises to be an upbeat evening with live bands and a special performance from San Francisco’s very own Stroke 9. The band was so inspired by Olanoff’s campaign that they are preparing a #blamedrewscancer song especially for the event.

Although Olanoff is locked into a battle of treatments and pain for the near-future, he feels blessed that his type of cancer has a high cure rate. In that sense, he feels luckier than most.

Olanoff does not want people to pity him. "Very few people have said to me, ‘I am so sorry that you have cancer.’ And that makes me so happy.”

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