Leal Health, Our Story

An informed patient is an empowered patient, and an empowered patient has the confidence to take a more active role in decisions about their care.”

Since May is Melanoma Awareness Month, we thought it was a great opportunity for us to share our origin story with our community.  

Here is our Founder and CEO, Tzvia Bader, sharing her own cancer story and the inspiration behind the launch of Leal.

“My journey with cancer started long before my own diagnosis. In 1998, my mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and unfortunately did not respond well to treatment. It was during my mother’s cancer journey that I first discovered the vast ecosystem of clinical trials. However, by the time we found a potential clinical trial option for her, it was too late. 

Fourteen years later, I found myself in a familiar position when I was diagnosed with stage IV malignant melanoma. Fearing history repeating itself and trying to come to grips with the all too real prospect of my 3 young daughters losing their mother, I dove headfirst into mapping out my own treatment plan. Although the odds were stacked against me, I had so much to fight for and was determined to control my cancer journey.”

Working to Find the Best Treatment For Me

“I started my treatment in a large community center in New Jersey. Still, 3 surgeries later, my cancer continued to progress. I was hopeful we’d be able to find a treatment that worked for me at this center, but that wasn’t the case. I was presented with only 1 clinical trial as a potential treatment option. During my conversation with my oncologist at the time, I remember thinking, “What do you mean, only 1 trial?” With my cancer progressing and knowing that there were so many clinical trials happening around the world, I found it inconceivable—and unacceptable—that there was only 1 viable treatment option for me.

At that moment, I realized that if I wanted more options, it was up to me to help discover them. I began researching and educating myself, and I was determined that my next best option was to move my case to a larger cancer research center. At first, I felt relieved. I had put in a lot of work and was scheduled to meet with several of the most accomplished doctors who were dedicated to cancer research and who I hoped would be able to provide me with greater access to life-saving solutions. Thankfully, my new oncologist gave me 3 different options: one option was to try an approved cancer drug, and the other 2 options were to participate in different clinical trials.

At the time, I was still trying to fully comprehend the role of clinical trials in my treatment journey. The doctor explained how these studies demonstrated potentially better outcomes based on my diagnosis. Because time was not on my side, I jumped in with both feet. 

The first trial option I chose was to receive a targeted therapy drug, which lasted several months before tests showed that the disease had continued to spread. Then, I switched to a clinical trial that included treatment with a combination of a proven immunotherapy drug and a virus vaccination. At first, my cancer responded fairly well to this treatment. However, after completing the treatment phase of the clinical trial and attempting to transition back to my “normal” life, my scans showed a recurrence.

At my wit’s end, I asked my oncologist a simple but direct question: “Are you offering me the best treatment options available or just the best that this hospital has to offer?” This question led to the discovery of 2 very important points. Unfortunately, I learned that 1) I was only being offered clinical trials available through my treatment site, and 2) I had been offered only the clinical trials with which my oncologist was directly involved. It was then that I decided that I wanted to cast the widest net possible, so I began my search to uncover all options available to me.” 

Taking Charge of My Care

“Through my own relentless research, I identified a new clinical trial option and presented it to my doctor. My enthusiasm for this new potential treatment was immediately shot down when my oncologist informed me that he did not have any seats left for this specific clinical trial and preferred for me to enroll in a different one. This opened my eyes to some of the flaws in the current clinical trial landscape for patients.

I knew that I had to make another treatment decision, which led me to find a much more aggressive treatment option available through a new clinical trial. My oncologist was uncertain about this option and suggested a different approach before I resorted to this more aggressive trial. But at that point, I knew I had to make a life-changing decision: to do what I felt was right for my body and diagnosis. With that, I went forward with the more aggressive treatment.

Looking back, what is so important about this scenario is not that I chose one treatment option over another. Rather, it was the fact that when I had several options, I learned how important it was to understand what those options were and to make the decision that was right for me. It is now nearly 5 years later, and I am so thankful I made that decision.

What I learned throughout  my own cancer journey is that the way in which patients gain access to advanced cancer treatments, through clinical trials, is completely broken.

Understanding ALL treatment options is critical for people to own their cancer journey, as I have been fortunate enough to do. After spending 20 years building technology companies, it is clear that AI offers the only viable path to empowering every individual on the planet with the knowledge and tools they need to receive the best treatment possible. And so Leal Health was born.”

Building a Technology that Accelerates Access to All Advanced Treatment Options for All Patients 

“The future of healthcare means creating a true partnership and collaboration between patients and their doctors, whereby the patient offers more direct input about treatment options and can leverage technology like AI to learn more about all available therapies that could lead to significantly improved outcomes.

In the same way that you would never buy a home through a real estate agent without first seeing the house yourself, doctors and the healthcare industry at large simply cannot determine the best treatment plan for a particular patient without first listening to the patient’s thoughts, desires, and feedback. Patients need to be heard, because it’s their cancer diagnosis, their treatment and, ultimately, their decision on the best course of action to take.

By providing all available treatment options to patients – powered by a technology that is without bias or Big Pharma influence – Leal provides patients with the necessary tools to be active in, and comfortable with, their treatment plan. We designed the platform to use AI to identify and generate personalized treatment plans, enabling patients to own their journey. The information is curated for patients in easy-to-understand language and a support team is in place to help guide patients every step of the way.

Additionally, oncologists can obtain quick, easy access to all available clinical trial information, enabling them to deepen relationships with their patients and offer better clinical outcomes.” 

Recognized by TIME magazine as one of “The 100 Best Inventions of 2020” and named an honoree in the AI and data category for Fast Company‘s “2021 World Changing Ideas” Awards, Leal has thousands of cancer patients on its platform from across the U.S. and has already made 4.2 million clinical trial matches for people with cancer.”

What to Know if You are Considering Joining a Clinical Trial

“Before my own cancer experience, I wish I had known that I had the option to participate in clinical trials, even before moving forward with my initial standard-of-care treatment. After my diagnosis and a lack of direction from my first oncologist, I was determined to find a better alternative to what I was given. It took a lot of self-exploration and research to truly understand the clinical trial landscape. In hindsight, I wish I had known the complexities around finding the right option to fit my specific diagnosis.

During the already difficult time of navigating a cancer diagnosis, I found out how important it was to recognize that the key to treatment may lie beyond the standard of care. I learned that you must be willing to seek other treatment options, such as clinical trials, to ensure you are aware of all potential treatment options available to you.

Beyond this, I believe it is important for people with cancer to know that participating in clinical trials can potentially serve as a life-saving treatment for you as the actual participant, and also help to further advances in treating cancer that could help others in need.”


Tzvia Bader is a stage IV Melanoma survivor and the CEO and co-founder of Leal Health, an AI-powered decision-making platform that connects cancer patients to advanced treatment options and helps to accelerate clinical research timelines. 

Leal Health, Our Story2023-08-25T14:10:32+00:00

Intimacy & Cancer: A Personal Affair

Intimacy. Finally…there it was… the real victim of my cancer treatment. The honest-to-goodness casualty of the brutal side-effects inflicted by the cancer drugs that were saving my life but consequently destroying anything and everything else in their path. My confidence took a hit when my body started to fall apart and the strong, assertive, accomplished young woman in the mirror turned into someone I didn’t know and didn’t want to see. She was pale and weathered…with a chubby face and exhausted eyes, no hair or eyebrows, no breasts, no conviction. But I certainly didn’t want to pity her, um, me. And didn’t want others to pity her either. I let the disconnect between the memory of who I once was to the reflection I saw in the mirror seep into every corner of spirit and consciousness. 


Unknowingly, I had built a tall invisible fortress around myself, surrounded by deep moats and fiery dragons and it was impossible to let anyone in…particularly my closest and dearest. Them, especially, I wanted to protect from the actual horrors that were sprinting through my psyche and unleashing their poisons throughout my body. It was during the darkest moments of terror…when I feared for my life and despaired over the wreckage that would be left in the aftermath of my death…that those walls went up higher and the intimacy and comfort, that I likely needed, was shut off from the world and most tragically from my family. 


So, when my husband suggested a romantic getaway to Florida after my chemotherapy and double mastectomy, I was somewhat surprised but mostly horrified or tortured over who would join him on the trip…the woman he married or the fragmented woman that looked back at me from the mirror every day. Somehow baldness, chemo fatigue and an amputated, scarred-up chest did not equate to an amorous vacation in my mind. 


Finally, my mother convinced me that fresh air and new surroundings might do me some good, and so I consented to go. In preparation, I forced myself to shop for pretty lingerie, luxurious scents and make-up that would brighten my grayish skin tone. I convinced myself that this could be a lovely getaway in spite of my bloated face, black toe nails, brittle teeth and crippled self-confidence. Even though it was mostly out of my control, I was ashamed of my appearance. I was only 32 years old but, in fact, I felt twice my age and looked like a sick, frail woman who was playing dress-up. Which I was. The last thing I was in the mood for was trying to be ravishing, desirable or, ahem, sexy. 


So I did the next best thing. I decided to “fake it ‘til I make it.” I packed all of the lovely lacey nighties, doused myself in Issey Miyaki perfume, applied some pink lip-gloss and put on my cutest wig and the bravest face I could muster before boarding the flight. It was an exhausting feat but I was hoping to dazzle (or maybe just even charm) my still-somewhat-new and very handsome husband with the best version of myself I could come up with. One that he hadn’t seen in over six months…the one I no longer saw in the mirror. 


And guess what! It worked. We spent the days holding hands during long quiet walks on the beach, giggling and blowing bubbles in the sudsy bathtub, giving each other foot rubs on the balcony that overlooked a grove of palm trees, and chatting intimately during dreamy dinners underneath moonlit skies. The weather was glorious and the air smelled like freshly cut flowers dancing in the salty breeze from the ocean.  


Everything seemed to wake up within me…slowly and then all at once. 


My skin began to tingle in the morning sunshine. My body seemed to become more coordinated as I began to take faster, bolder strides. My mood was lighter and I surprised myself when I laughed uncontrollably at something silly my husband said at the gas station. By the time my wig and lingerie came off in the bedroom, most of my insecurities had melted away. Before our trip ended, I took one last long look in the mirror in the light of day. I saw both of us…me and her, and I felt surprisingly grateful. Grateful because I was finally able to see ME again. And grateful because she was strong enough to carry me when I was lost and terrified. She was actually a badass warrior and not the frail, broken shell of a person I mistook her to be. The reconnection and self-awareness I felt, with myself in that moment, realizing that I had survived the unimaginable was truly one of the most humbling and stirring moments of my life.


And I finally understood that even if I felt undesirable and lacked desire, what I actually truly needed and had categorically ignored and denied myself during my treatment, was intimacy. 


Intimacy in the way we connect with others and with ourselves…in words, in touch, in smiles, in small gestures. Intimacy in the way there is a silent knowing when looking at someone you love…all the secrets and words said and unsaid that are yours and yours alone. Intimacy like letting someone who cares about you empty your surgical drains and clean your kitchen before giving your daughter a bath. Intimacy like when you laugh with someone at the same time at something that’s not even particularly funny but just ridiculous or order meals off the menu, intending to share, knowing what the other person will like. Intimacy like when you need a manicure but you’re so sick you can’t leave the house and your friend shows up unannounced to give you one. Intimacy like when it’s time to leave a party and your person looks at you across the room and gives you that wink and a nod and you instantly know it’s time to go. Intimacy like when you’re going through cancer and you’re scared out of your mind and someone next to you grabs your hand to let you know they won’t leave you. And on and on and on and…

Intimacy & Cancer: A Personal Affair2023-08-25T14:10:49+00:00