Leila Janah Dies: Samasource CEO Suffered From Epithelioid Sarcoma

Leila Janah Dead

Getty Leila Janah pictured in March 2016.

Leila Janah, the CEO of Samasource, died on January 24 at the age of 37. Janah suffered from a rare form of cancer known as epithelioid sarcoma.

A statement from Samasource read, “We are saddened to announce that Leila Janah, Samasource Founder and CEO, passed away due to complications from Epithelioid Sarcoma. Her commitment to creating a better world was unparalleled. We will miss her everyday.”

Epithelioid sarcoma is a rare, soft tissue cancer that begins as a non-painful lump. According to the Mayo Clinic, it can begin under the skin of a finger, hand, forearm, lower leg or foot.

Samasource is a for-profit tech company that seeks to reduce poverty by connecting impoverished people with jobs in the tech sector. Samasource has offices in San Francisco, India, Kenya and Uganda.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Janah Was Born in New York to Indian Immigrant Parents & Suffered Financial Insecurity Growing Up

Leila Janah Dead

GettyLeila Janah attends Girlboss Rally NYC 2018 at Knockdown Center on November 18, 2018 in Maspeth, New York.

Janah was born in upstate New York, close to Niagra Falls, to Indian immigrants. Janah described her upbringing as financially insecure. The family moved to San Pedro, California, when she was young. Janah described her upbringing in a 2017 interview with the New York Times in which she described her parents as “liberal intellectuals” who came to the U.S. with nothing.

In February 2017, Janah wrote about her family’s story in a blog post on her official website. Janah described her Belgian grandmother moving to India, where she met her Indian grandfather. Janah wrote about her parents moving to the United States and working hard, which allowed both Janah and her brother to attend Harvard and Stamford. According to her LinkedIn page, Janah graduated from Harvard University in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in developmental studies.

Janah wrote in conclusion, “Immigrants have become scapegoats for the joblessness and desperation plaguing America’s white working class. This is unacceptable, just as it was when Irish and Italian immigrants were scapegoats in a prior era. As a nation, we have always been more of an affinity group than an ethnic group, united not by our skin color or religion but by our core philosophy that a person is the sum of his actions, not his ancestry. That’s what makes America great.”

2. Janah Chose to Be Open About Her Cancer Diagnosis Because ‘The Consistent Support of Friends & Community Is a Powerful Tool in the Face of Impossible Obstacles’

Leila Janah cancer

Janah and Aisha Bowe speak onstage at Girlboss Rally NYC 2018 at Knockdown Center on November 18, 2018 in Maspeth, New York.

In April 2019, Janah announced to the world that she had been diagnosed with cancer. Janah wrote in a Facebook post, “I recently learned I have a rare but treatable form of cancer: epithelioid sarcoma. I decided to share it publicly because I have learned, in the course of building Samasource and LXMI, that the consistent support of friends and community is a powerful tool in the face of many seemingly impossible obstacles.” Janah added that her diagnosis came as she and her fiance were in the process of planning a wedding.

Janah’s final Instagram post came in November 2019 when she showed her self receiving chemotherapy. On her Instagram bio, Janah wrote that she was “healing” and therefore “not posting much.”

3. Janah Is Survived by Her Husband Tassilo Festetics

View this post on Instagram

It has been a trying few months in and out of @sloankettering with different types of chemo and a chest drain (!). But I have never felt so loved, fortunate, or cherished. My beloved @tassilo_f and our team of doctors, nurses, family and friends have prescribed, cooked, cuddled, FaceTimed, sung, visited, and scrabbled me into as happy a state as possible given the circumstances! I celebrated 37 last month with a “00” on the cake, a symbol of the fresh take on the world this cancer has given me. One thing I realized is how philosophically important my work has been in my life, but how obsessed I was with controlling every detail. In my recovery, I’ve had to change my relationship to work and accept not being able to step into everything. As a founder it is a tremendous relief to have the best leaders and coworkers I could ask for— soon we will share some exciting news on the @samasource front, and the @lxmiofficial team is about to launch a new product. It brings me such joy to see these teams flourish, to see our vision take root and flower. Epithelioid sarcoma is a rare, strange beast. As it moves through my body I’m trying to understand what it could possibly teach me. My biggest lesson is awe: I’m awe-struck by the complexity of human biology, and equally by the almost mystical power of human connection and love flowing my way. Thank you all for your support and care ❤️?? #sarcoma #epithelioidsarcoma #cancer #cancerfighter #msk #mskcc #sarcomaawareness

A post shared by Leila Janah (@leilajanah) on Nov 18, 2019 at 1:39pm PST

Janah’s husband was Tassilo Festetics, the vice president of global solutions at Anheuser Busch. The statement from Samasource announcing Janah’s death mentioned that she was survived by Festetics and his daughter.

In July 2019, Janah told CNBC in an interview about the difficulties of being treated for a rare form of cancer. Janah referenced that she was not burdened by the financial problems many sufferers incur in the U.S. because of her and Festetics’ careers.

4. In Addition to Her Professional Achievements, Janah Was Passionate Kitesurfer & Dancer

Reversing global poverty | Leila Janah | TEDxAmsterdamWomenLeila will share her passion and purpose. Centered around Samasource, she’ll share how she’s reduced global poverty by giving dignified online work to people living in poverty and an aim she was once told was impossible. Leila Janah is the Founder and CEO of Samasource and LXMI, two companies that go beyond charity to give…2017-11-13T16:27:58.000Z

On her Facebook page, Janah talked about her passions for kitesurfing, paragliding, scuba diving, ballet and salsa dancing. Those interests are listed alongside Janah’s long list of professional accolades. While on her Instagram bio, Janaj wrote that she was an “adventure lover.”

5. Janah’s Short Life Is Being Celebrated by Tech Figures Across the World

Leila Janah Cause of Death

Christensen Prize recipient, Founder and CEO, Samasource and LXMI Leila Janah speaks on stage during Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards – 2018 Tribeca Film Festival at Spring Studios on April 24, 2018 in New York City.

As news of Janah’s death spreads across the world, some of the biggest tech figures in the world have taken to social media to celebrate her tragically short life. Here are some of the most poignant messages of remembrance:

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