Molly MacDonald was diagnosed with Stage 0 breast cancer in 2005. The good news was that such cancers, caught early, are highly treatable and survivable. The bad news was that the diagnosis came while she was between jobs and without an income. Her family quickly went into a financial free fall.
"Our home went into foreclosure and I ended up standing in line at a local food bank. I was appalled when I realized how our family could become homeless over something like this," says MacDonald, of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, who had two surgeries and six weeks of daily radiation to rid herself of the cancer cells. "My early stage disease was not going to take my life, but believe me, there were times during the process when I thought I and my family would be better off if it did and they could collect the life insurance -- at least that would have kept a roof over their heads and food on the table when I could not provide."
"I was so angry when I realized that we spend hundreds of millions of dollars researching a cure, which is important, but nothing to help out families for whom the patient's ability to work is absolutely critical to their ability to live. The American Cancer Society can help with transportation and there are a few programs that help with medical co-pays for prescriptions," says MacDonald. But the needs totally outstrip the number of helping hands available.
MacDonald decided to put her anger and frustration to good use. In 2006, she founded The Pink Fund, which provides assistance to those afflicted with breast cancer. Its overarching goal is to prevent people from finding themselves homeless and without transportation as the cope with an average six-month breast cancer treatment protocol, explains MacDonald. Typically, The Pink Fund will write checks to cover expenses like rent, utilities and car insurance on behalf of the individual, typically offering about $1,800 per person, with a cap of $3,000.
"When I sat in that radiation cancer room and listened to the war stories of other women who were in far worse physical shape, facing their own mortality, I only could share what was happening to us financially, but when I told them I was determined to make a difference by creating a fund, I felt somewhat off the hook for not being quite so sick," says MacDonald.
Filling a Financial Void
Organizations like The Pink Fund serve as a financial lifeline for those in danger of getting washed away by the financial tidal wave that so often follows the earthquake that is a breast cancer diagnosis. DailyFinance went in search of other places those women can turn for help.
Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation in LaGrangeville, N.Y., gives about $100,000 a year -- between $250-$1,000 per person -- to people in treatment for breast cancer who live in the eight-county Hudson Valley region. "We stopped a woman from committing suicide last month when her husband left her after she was diagnosed," says executive director Pari Forood. "She contacted us and we paid basic living expenses. Medical gap care helps people with a fundamental need and they are eternally grateful. When they get back on their feet, they usually volunteer for us."
"The American Cancer Society, Komen and the other national organizations are mostly about funding research, which is great, but we want to help people cope and get through their treatment as quickly and harmless," says Forood.
Sources of immediate aid are limited. "There are organizations that have a 10-page application and you find out in six to eight months if you've been helped," says Erica Harvey, executive director of The Breast Cancer Charities of America. "Those are great, but ours is called Help Now Fund ... we help, now. There's a 10-day open application period, and within five business days after it's closed, the patient and their social worker will be personally contacted regarding if they were funded."
The organization provides counseling and emergency financial assistance in conjunction with cancer treatment centers nationwide. "Our commitment is adequate food, clothing and shelter for every woman going through breast cancer," says Harvey.
Active breast cancer patients living anywhere in the U.S. may seek financial help from the Patient Advocate Foundation, which helps with co-pays for prescriptions and/or pharmaceutical treatments, and CancerCare's Linking A.R.M.S. program, which gives financial assistance for treatment-related expenses including pain and anti-nausea medication. Susan G. Komen for the Cure will provide $2 million to support at least 1,675 breast cancer patients. Many Komen affiliates support local organizations that provide emergency financial support. Check with your local affiliate to find out if they offer such services, advises Mollie Williams, Komen's managing director of community health programs.
Unusual Models for Charity
Barbara Hensley lost two sisters to breast cancer. In 2001, she left a corporate executive management job to start Hope Chest for Breast Cancer. "We are a very unique model in that we have an ongoing revenue stream from the Hope Chest for Breast Cancer Retail Stores that are indecently owned, for profit businesses," says Hensley. "The stores' mantra is: 'Excellent quality, excellent experience, excellent buys ... all for an excellent cause.'"
If you want to try to raise money on your own to help breast cancer patients, consider GiveForward.com. You can set up your page, then promote it on Facebook, or wherever you choose. Friends, family and followers can donate using a credit or debit card.
Cate Conroy, director of marketing for the site, explains the model: "Often when someone is facing a medical crisis, there are numerous expenses that insurance simply won't cover, like childcare when a parent is in treatment or travel to and from treatment. It is these kind of out-of-pocket expenses that GiveForward allows beneficiaries to raise money through their personal networks, so there's no limit to the amount that you can raise every year."
GiveForward has helped people raise nearly $7 million since 2008.
Assistance for the Uninsured
Those organizations may be able to help a patient deal with the fiscal side effects of cancer, but coping with a lack of health insurance is a whole different ball game.
Ankeny Minoux, president of The Foundation for Health Coverage Education, which helps people without insurance find coverage, says there are four basic options: "Know your state's public options, programs like Medicaid, CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program) or other free or low-cost government-sponsored programs. Look into your state's High Risk Pool. Research all private options offered by insurers -- including both individual and group health plans. Use trusted resources like the American Cancer Society's, www.cancer.org."
Minoux highlights a few programs: Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program (California, Massachusetts, Texas), Women's Wellness Connection (Colorado), Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (Connecticut, Indiana, New Mexico, Virginia, Wyoming), Screening for Life (Delaware), Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention (Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana), Georgia Cancer Screening Program, Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon), Women's Health Check (Idaho), Healthy Women (Illinois, Pennsylvania), Early Detection Works (Kansas), Kentucky Women's Cancer Screening Program, Maine Breast and Cervical Health Program, Breast Cancer Screening Program & the Breast and Cervical Diagnosis and Treatment Program (Maryland), Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program (Michigan), Sage Screening Program (Minnesota), Show Me Healthy Women (Missouri), Every Woman Matters Program (Nebraska), Women's Health Connection (Nevada), Let No Woman Be Overlooked Program (New Hampshire), Cancer Education and Early Detection (New Jersey), Medicaid Cancer Treatment Program (New York), Women's Way (North Dakota), Breast and Cervical Cancer Protection Program (Ohio), Woman's Cancer Screening (Rhode Island), Best Chance Network (South Carolina), All Women Count (South Dakota), Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program (Tennessee, West Virginia), Utah Cancer Control, Ladies First (Vermont), Washington Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, Project Wish (Washington D.C.), and Well Women Program (Wisconsin).
"The most important mistake to avoid is giving up and thinking there are no options," says Minoux.
Funding needs are huge, yet the organizations themselves are working to stay healthy at a time when donations are generally down. "We've seen a drastic hit, says Harvey. "People are saving rather than helping others. We do all that we can do -- keep an extremely low overhead, pass on 80 cents of every dollar raised to our program services -- but still the funds are down, which means we can't help as many women as we'd like with basic things like keeping a roof over their heads, or water running in their homes. There's nothing worse than the stories that we hear about single moms having to pick between keeping a roof over the heads of [their] children, or going to a doctor's appointment."