While fighting for their lives, many women in active treatment for breast cancer lose their livelihoods - experiencing a loss of income that often leads to catastrophic financial losses and the need to rebuild their financial health according to Molly MacDonald, founder of the Pink Fund.
A breast cancer survivor herself, Molly knows this intimately as she experienced what she calls "Financial Toxicity" herself.
Financial toxicity is defined as the emotional and physically debilitating financial side effects some women experience as a result of their breast cancer diagnosis and ensuing treatment to beat the disease.
Molly's diagnosis came while she was transitioning between jobs and after a divorce that left her without savings, spousal support and at best, irregular child support. Faced with two surgeries and six weeks of daily radiation treatment, "The addition of a monthly $1300 COBRA premium to insure my family and my access to life-saving care catapulted us into financial freefall."
Without a financial safety net, Molly's home went into foreclosure, and as Molly put it, she pulled out her "cancer card" with her creditors to avoid having her car repossessed and utilities shut off. When the neighbors stopped delivering meals, Molly found herself at the local food pantry to supplement the few groceries she could afford. She said it was the most humiliating time of her life.
"How could I, a well-educated woman, be at a foodbank, facing the prospect of homelessness, and a lifestyle from which could take generations to emerge (referring to dependence on state and federal assistance)?"
One paycheck away from homelessness
Molly's situation is not unusual. It is estimated that 62% of Americans are theoretically one paycheck away from homelessness, and many of these Americans are completely unaware of how and where to get assistance when needed. Providers, too, often don't think to refer resources or provide the services of the medical center's social worker, to women (or men) who have insurance and look financially secure.
While in treatment Molly met others like herself with families that depended on their income for basic cost-of-living expenses. Women who were concerned that their treatment would outlive their FMLA, who would see their savings depleted, and run the risk of a medically-induced bankruptcy.
When Molly's quests to get help were met with blank stares, she was determined to help others in her same situation with non-medical, basic costs of living expenses, to provide a financial bridge that aligns with FMLA and give families some breathing space to review their financial circumstances and make changes to manage the overall cost of their care.
Eventually the Pink Fund became a reality and through the generous support of corporate and individual donors and sponsors, the organization has been able to provide a financial bridge to families in the form of payment to creditors for housing, transportation, utility, and insurance bills delivering more than $2.5 million in aid nationwide.
Where to find help
Most of the messaging surrounding breast cancer revolves around awareness - getting women to go for their annual screening mammograms, and research - new ways to diagnose and treat as well as the search for a cure. Very little centers on what happens if you are the one in eight women diagnosed with cancer today.
One of the best places to start is with your local imaging center. Many facilities have a nurse navigator or social worker/patient advocate to help guide you towards resources, and in some cases, even with applying for assistance. In most cases, this will be your best resource for finding and receiving help - so do not be shy to ask to speak to one.
In addition to the Pink Fund, there are other organizations, on a national or local level, dedicated to helping women coping with "financial toxicity" as a result of their cancer diagnosis.
The Metastatic Breast Cancer Network has a web page for patients looking to find financial assistance with a comprehensive list of organizations that provide financial aid, their contact info, and the type of aid provided.
On their webpage "Programs and Resources to Help With Cancer-related Expenses," the American Cancer Society also offers great advice for where to find services that offer temporary financial and others for cancer patients and their families.
Turn awareness into empowerment
Go for your annual mammograms and remember the earlier cancer is detected, the better the clinical outcome. Be educated, explore your options, and don't be afraid to ask for help if you or a family member is diagnosed.
And finally - consider giving back as Molly did after her experience. These organizations couldn't do the work they do without donors - both large and small.
* Acknowledgement: Thank you to Molly McDonald for sharing her story with us. To learn more about the Pink Fund visit www.pinkfund.org