When I was 54, I launched The Pink Fund from my kitchen table to provide financial support to breast cancer patients going through active treatment. To date, 13 years later, we’ve given more than $3.5 million in monetary assistance to over 2,289 breast cancer patients across the United States.
The problem I’m trying to solve
While fighting for their lives, many breast cancer patients lose their livelihoods, experiencing a loss of income that can have devastating consequences. There’s an actual name for it: cancer-related financial toxicity, and up to 73 percent of all cancer patients experience it, according to a 2017 review published in the medical journal Patient. It’s not just the out-of-pocket costs of cancer therapies such as copayments, deductibles and travel expenses. Women are often unable to work as they go through treatment, which means a drastic drop in income. As a result, they can’t keep up with crucial bills like mortgages and car payments and may find themselves losing their homes and/or filing for bankruptcy.
The Pink Fund provides financial support to breast cancer patients in active treatment, covering basic cost-of-living expenses for housing, transportation, utilities and health insurance premiums. Our 90-day financial bridge program pays up to $3,000 to cover nonmedical cost-of-living expenses. This in turn allows patients to stay in their homes and stave off financial Armageddon, so that they can focus on getting the treatment they need and healing.
The moment that sparked my passion
In the spring of 2005, at age 54, I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. I had been about to take a six-figure job but was left unemployed and unemployable while I underwent treatment. Without my income, and the addition of a $1,300 a month COBRA premium, our family went into financial free fall. Yet when I went to the hospital social worker and asked for help with my nonmedical bills, she stared at me blankly. I was personally lucky enough to ultimately get support from my mother, who lent me enough money to allow me to prevent my house going into foreclosure. But while in treatment, I met many other women experiencing this same financial toxicity, and they had no one to help them. That’s when I had an epiphany: I couldn’t get help, so maybe I was supposed to give help.
Advice to others who want to make a difference
Be patient. If you want to start a nonprofit, remember that you are in it for the long haul. Those first six years, I spent most of my days taking my dog-and-pony show out to anyone who would agree to meet with me. Most of the time, I got nowhere. In retrospect, if I had known that my dreams for this organization would take more than a decade to achieve, I probably would have thrown in the towel fairly early on. But I didn’t realize that, and instead, each time I became discouraged or overwhelmed, I waited it out and within a week, things usually turned around. It also helped that my second husband told me in our early days when we had a challenge that dogged me, “If you can’t handle this, then you are the wrong woman for the job and you need to step aside.” That was the motivation to hang in there and not let emotion take control of the current circumstances.
Why my approach is unique
While there are many other financial assistance programs, they only offer one-time grants or gift cards as a stopgap measure. However, average breast cancer treatment lasts for six to nine months, leaving patients in a lurch when these funds run out. The Pink Fund gives patients room to breathe, with three months to adjust their budget. We also make it easy and accessible for patients. Our application is readily available on our website, so they don’t need to go through their medical provider or social worker. This last year alone, we’ve helped 332 individuals and their families by providing close to $700,000 in support. It seems a small amount to help these women get their lives back.