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Breast Cancer Stories- Join us here as we continue to share stories that celebrate the women and men who inspire us all!
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Mission in Action
Grantee Success Stories
Stories provided by past grantees of individuals who have been helped by Susan G. Komen Minnesota funding.
These stories represent real-life examples of how, through the Komen Minnesota Community Grants Program, donor dollars are making a difference. Please take a moment to read and be inspired.
Allina Associated Foundation: Marilyn is a 77 year old woman who underwent a double mastectomy for Stage II breast cancer. Marilyn is widowed and lives on a fixed income. She drives about 40 miles each way for chemo, and gas and other expenses related to her cancer have consumed most of her liquid assets. Because of the Hope Fund, we were able to provide Marilyn with "breathing room" by helping her pay utility bills and other bills and by providing her with some gas cards.
RS was diagnosed with Stage 2B breast cancer in June of this year. Because of complications, she has not been able to return to work since her surgery. RS was referred to the Hope Fund by a treatment team member of another health system who learned that RS was nearing eviction. She had not qualified for financial assistance at the time, and she used all of her savings. At the time she came to us, she was relying on friends and family for food, transportation, and loans. Because of the Hope Fund, we were able to help RS catch up on her rent payments, and we provided food and gas cards so she didn’t have to rely on friends and family. Since that initial award, RS has been able to get financial assistance so she is no longer in danger of eviction. We have given her gas and grocery cards two additional times, but this allows her to stay current on other bills. RS joked with the social worker that the program did exactly what it’s name promised to do—it gave her HOPE.
"Sara” was diagnosed with breast cancer this past year. Because the cancer was identified early enough, her oncologist recommended a lumpectomy followed by a course of radiation treatment. Sara, however, told her oncology care coordinator that she decided to have a mastectomy. When the care coordinator explored the decision with Sara, she learned that Sara felt she could not afford the gas money to travel 80 miles roundtrip each day for several weeks to have the radiation treatments. She also felt she could not take time away from work. The care coordinator helped her find appointment times that would minimize the impact on her work schedule, and she referred Sara to the Hope Fund. Sara was so grateful that there was support available so she could make a different treatment decision that wasn’t based on her bank account or the price of fuel. She wrote a note to the Foundation that said in part “this was a lifesaver. I almost cried when (she) handed me the gas cards because I couldn’t believe it was really true.”
H was a 46 year old woman who was living with friends ("couch hopping") after leaving an abusive relationship. Shortly after, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Because of the Hope Fund, the cancer coordinator and social worker were able to help H put a deposit on an affordable apartment and pay her first month's rent, giving her enough breathing room to get back on her feet financially. The staff said they cried more than H did when they notified her of the award! H is still undergoing treatment, but her housing situation is stable. She recently told the social worker that she doesn't think she could have survived the surgery and chemo treatments if she didn't have a home to call her own.
American Indian Cancer Foundation: The individual that comes to mind is an American Indian woman that traveled hours to attend our 5th Annual Powwow for Hope. Every year, we gift ladies with pink shawls who are caregivers and survivors at our Powwow for Hope. This individual is a breast cancer survivor who is an excellent role model in her community. She was diagnosed in May of 2010 but with the help of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Mobile Mammography Unit, she was able to spot her cancer early enough to have it treated and removed. She was able to consider herself cancer-free as of 2015. She is also one of the main employees from her reservation who started the first cancer support group on their reservation which has been successful. During their sessions, members of the support group made their own Pink Shawls with the intent to use the shawls at upcoming powwows. We worked in partnership with this support group and individual to coordinate a Pink Shawl honor song in the communities powwow.
The Project Manager had the chance to interview an American Indian woman from a tribe in Minnesota who is a breast cancer survivor. This lady has been a part of the Pink Shawl project and also spoke on a breast cancer panel that was hosted by the American Indian Cancer Foundation. She has a very admirable and encouraging story that she has shared with her community as well as the American Indian Cancer Foundation. We were able to present her with a Pink Shawl during this years annual Powwow for Hope and she was very pleased. She mentioned she would spread awareness and education using this shawl and her voice in her community and at powwows she attends.
Angel Foundation: Sara reported that once she received her grant she was able to make the necessary repairs to her car. This ensured that she was able to make it to all of her appointments once that had occurred. Sara has checked in with program staff on several occasions letting us know about her progress. While she continues to receive medical treatment, she has expressed "Receiving this grant has been an incredible blessing. As you know, right about the time I was diagnosed my car died, followed by the purchase of a used car that subsequently overheated and needed the repair, which is one of the things you helped me with. I guess when it rains, it pours, but Angel Foundation came to me as a place of support when I least expected it. I felt I could count on you throughout this journey, for more than just a bill you could help me with. I really felt strengthened knowing you were there for me."
Patty is 28 year old mother of one being treated for Stage IV breast cancer. Her husband lost his job during the course of her treatment and her family had absolutely no income. Her social worker contacted Angel Foundation on her behalf. Thanks to funding from Susan G. Komen Minnesota, we were able to provide Patty with a $600 for rent, $100 in gas cards, and $150 in food cards. After receiving her grant, Macy sent us a hand-made thank-you card: “Dear Angel Foundation, first and foremost, I’d like to say ‘thank you’ for your generosity with helping me, as well as others out, in this time of hardship. Angel Foundation, you are greatly appreciated! Your help has touched me in a way that on other words can describe. May God bless you and multiply your kindness and fruitfully spread the love to those are in need in their times of hardship, especially when cancer strikes. Once again, thank you for helping me. It’s so healing, to know that there is help and others who really care!”
In June of 2017, 31-year-old Melinda was diagnosed with triple negative left breast cancer and was referred by her surgeon for neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Melinda began treatment and soon found herself unable to work, worrying about finances and unsure how she and her family would manage the mounting bills. At the recommendation of her patient navigator, Melinda applied for help through Angel Foundation and, thanks to funding from Susan G. Komen Minnesota, we were able to provide her with an $850 grant. After receiving her award letter in the mail, Melinda emailed us: “In June 2017, I heard my diagnosis of breast cancer… and just went numb. I have four daughters and I didn’t want to put my family through what I knew was a long road ahead. I have been unable to work as the chemotherapy has been just too hard on me. Needless to say, our finances have suffered. Thank you so much for your grant. I will use it for groceries and gas cards. We make a lot of trips to the hospital, so we gas up way too often. Plus, the Schwan’s cards will be a big help for my husband in preparing meals. Thank you so much for helping our family make it through the rough road of a cancer diagnosis.” ~ Melinda
Cancer Legal Line: The funding Komen provides to Cancer Legal Care's Breast Cancer Legal Program helped to reduce Gigi's stress, helped her to once again prioritize her health and well-being, and helped to mitigate her risk of homelessness. All of these combine to better allow for Gigi to maintain her health insurance and adhere to her treatment protocol, and boost her overall sense of health and well-being. Legal issues tend to be viewed as existing outside the medical care patients receive, but the profound impact on the practicality of adhering to and paying for those treatments, as well as the pervasive and overwhelming stress they cause to one's health, necessarily make them a critical part of the overall continuum of care breast cancer patients need to be well. The funding Susan G. Komen Minnesota provides to support the BCLP helps to address these issues in a very real, practical, and meaningful way.
On February 12, a 37 year old woman named "Kay” contacted us for emergency help. She had been receiving coverage through MNSure because her company did not provide health insurance. Her husband was changing jobs and thought they would be covered with his new employer on February 1. Because of this, Kay called MNSure in January and told them she wouldn't need coverage starting February 1. On February 3, they learned that her husband's coverage wouldn't start until March 1. Kay called MNSure back and they said, they had already canceled her coverage and it was too late for her to rescind her notice. MNSure said she needed to enroll in UCare. UCare told her she should be covered for February and she sent them a check on February 3 check. On February 4, Kay was diagnosed with a Stage IV aggressive breast cancer. On February 12, Kay received a letter from UCare saying she in fact was NOT covered. Kay had a PET scan scheduled for the following week and was set to begin her treatment. She could not do any of this without insurance coverage. Kay contacted CALL after learning about the BCLP from her social worker. CALL was able to provide information and connect Kay with one of our volunteers who is an expert in MNSure coverage issues. The next day, Kay called us and said, "When I called UCare and told them that I had contacted Cancer Legal Line, they figured out a way to resolve the issue!!" and that she is now fully covered for all of her care beginning February 1.
“Beth” a woman with breast cancer contacted us when she learned that her health insurance had been cancelled with no prior notice. She went to the clinic for a scheduled scan and was told upon presenting her insurance card that her insurance was no longer in effect. She had been scheduled to start a course of Ibrance for her advanced breast cancer (average market cost is $10,600 for 21 doses). We contacted MNSure on her behalf to try and determine why her insurance had been cancelled with no notice, but got nowhere with them. We then were able to enlist the help of a CALL volunteer who is a retired health insurance executive. He helped connect us to someone at the insurance company who coordinated information a CALL volunteer attorney needed to prepare an appeal of the MNSure denial, and also worked with the Ombudsman at the Department of Health and Human Services who fast-tracked the issue and was able to retroactively qualify Beth for Medical Assistance as of June 1. Three weeks later, Beth’s prescription for Ibrance was delivered to her door right in time to stay on her treatment protocol as her care team had planned. Things should not be this complicated, but so often they are. At the end of this saga, Beth told us, “thank you for never giving up!”
“Donna” is 59 years old and has Stage IV breast cancer. Donna has turned to Cancer Legal Care for five different legal matters over the last six months. Donna was diagnosed with her cancer through the SAGE program and as such was able to get insurance coverage through the breast cancer Medical Assistance program. Before her MA coverage was certain, our staff attorneys provided resources and guidance to Donna regarding cashing out her life insurance to provide income and counseled Donna about health insurance options as her employment situation was changing and would no longer afford coverage. Additionally, our staff attorneys wrote a successful letter on her behalf to a collection agency to stop the harassing letters and phone calls she was receiving and provided advice in dealing with her landlord and getting out of the lease on her apartment if need be. Finally, one of our volunteer attorneys prepared estate planning documents for Donna.
"I was grateful that you were there to help me. I'm so happy you guys guided me to the right help!" These were the words of “Angie” a BCLP client who contacted us after learning that her long term disability carrier was denying coverage for her disabling condition of Stage IV breast cancer. Angie has been out of work since 2013 and has been receiving long term disability insurance through her former employer’s plan. When she began to also receive Social Security Disability Insurance, her private disability carrier stopped her payments under the private plan. Angie contacted us again letting us know how happy she was with the final resolution and settlement reached with the help of our volunteer attorneys.
Care Partners: The barrier this client was facing is transportation barriers due to the rural area she lives in. She travels over 184 miles round-trip to see her local oncologist. She also travels more than 594 miles round-trip to see her cancer care team and attend follow-up appointments. At times, she spends more time in the car traveling, than she does at her appointments (some of which are daily & or weekly). The Komen funding provided funding for her transportation expenses. This patient seeks cancer treatment and services at two different medical facilities, which is a common situation for our clients. The Komen funding allows the client to not worry about the travel costs and breaks down the transportation barriers, allowing her to not miss appointments. Her travel barrier(s) due to the many miles she travels to receive care are removed/& or greatly reduced by the Komen funding she has received. The Komen funding was used to make sure she had the means to get to and from her appointments and not break the continuum of care. Without assistance, the client would have had a very hard time keeping her medical, therapy, and follow-up appointments. The transportation barriers for skipping appointments due to not having the financial means to get there are removed.
I am 44 years old and a wife, mother of 3 and a very active person. I eat healthy most of the time and exercise daily. I am an avid runner and was running 5 times a week prior to my diagnosis. I went in for my routine mammogram. There was a small spot detected - and after additional views - they scheduled a biopsy after an MRI showed multiple spots in my left breast. I had no symptoms. The biopsy came back positive. I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma stage IIB. I had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction surgery. Due to small trace of cancer cells in my sentinal node, they requested I have 6 treatments of chemotherapy. I also tested positive for the BRCA1 gene, so I will be having a hysterectomy. This also means now my children have to be tested for this gene mutation. I have been so blessed to have the financial assistance of Care Partners. My husband has been laid off from the steel mining industry and I have missed a lot of work since my diagnosis. Care Partners eases a lot of stress and anxiety for my husband and me, knowing we have help to pay our bills and travel to the cities for my treatments and surgeries. Thank you so much.
I am 49 - only a few months shy of 50. For years I have been dreaming of how to spend my 50th birthday. Well, life sure can change in a blink. I went in for a physical - & a few days later was told to come back in as they needed to re-check a few things. A few days later I was back at my doctor office and was told you have breast cancer. They told me some other things - but at the time I completely went into shock. Thank goodness my friend was with me for moral support - & was able to fully listen to what was being told to me. I was diagnosed with breast cancer - stage 2. The oncology social worker was very helpful & gave me information about a program that could help me out financially if needed. I live in XYZ, MN which is a two-hour drive one-way to reach my doctor in Duluth. I'm a single mother, the cost of gas for the follow-up treatment & appointments is very concerning. I did contact Care Partners & it has been very helpful. The travel alone costs a lot - but the help with the travel costs is a godsend. I can honestly say that without the program I can see myself skipping some appointments to save money. I know that is bad to say - but it's true. Thank you for all you do to help people like me - god bless.
Essentia Health St. Joseph’s Foundation: As the principle bread winner, the patient was attempting to work full time while going through treatment. She was unable to do so and was in jeopardy of losing her car. We were able to make several car payments during treatment and gas cards to be able to travel to treatment. This was very helpful to her during times of reduced employment. Since she was not working as much as needed, we also had to provide funds for groceries and utilities during treatment. Her financial stress levels were significantly reduced, thus giving her a much more positive outlook for the future. She was most appreciative. Relieving financial stress is and was key to ensuring the patient attended to her treatments thereby giving her a much better chance of survival. The treatments took care of her medical issues and the funds we provided addressed her financial stresses. Komen provided the grant funds in order that we were able to help this woman with funds for non-medical costs. Until we were able to raise our own funds to provide the assistance, Komen has provided grants that were critical to achieving our goals and mission.
We had a young lady undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of breast cancer. She was unable to work and through no fault of his own, her husband lost his job at the same time. In the process, they lost their house but we were able to assist them in relocating to an apartment by paying the first and last month payment and various deposits. The treatments also did extensive damage to her teeth and she was experiencing excruciating pain. Although they had insurance, the cost of the dental surgery and the deductible were very high. They could not afford to do the surgery but we were able to work with a local dentist and oral surgeon to get the work done. Between some payment by the Pink Ribbon Cupboard, and donations from the dentist and surgeon, the young lady's pain is gone and they had no cost. The Board saw this as a special case whereby we considered the assistance of the professionals as extenuating. In this case she posted on Facebook, I learned today "that angels wear pink and live in a cupboard". That made us very proud and proved to us that we are on the right tract.
We had a young family move into the area due to an employment transfer. The young woman was here alone until her husband could join her. She has a 4 year old, a 1 year old and was pregnant when diagnosed with breast cancer. We were able to help with gas cards, groceries, and mortgage payment while going through chemotherapy treatment. In addition, the community has become very supportive of this family since hearing her story. She has participated in one of our events we held and described her health issues and how the Pink Ribbon Cupboard helped her and her family.
We have helped a young family who are living in a mobile home that had no heat in the back part of the home Their car was not dependable to get them the 60 miles round trip to treatment. We were able to give them advice as to how to get the landlord to fix the heat and we fixed their car so she had reliable transportation. We paid their rent and furnished gas cards for her radiation treatment. With approval of our board, we went over our normal limits. We have found that we often are going over out self-imposed limits as a result of the increased costs and individual situations. We therefore had a board meeting to increase our limits to make a better impact on patient's lives.
A young wife in the area was the primary bread winner of the family while the husband finished his college education. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and during treatment, had to reduce her work time. Since she is new to the job, she did not have sufficient vacation or sick leave to cover the lost wages. They were about to have the husband drop out of school for a job when the Pink Ribbon Cupboard stepped in to help. During the period of treatment, the Pink Ribbon Cupboard were able to provide funds for their mortgage payments and, together with the patient's limited work wages, the husband was able to complete the semester in college. Now, back at full health, the family is happy, healthy, and recovering financially.
Gunderson: A woman who attended our screening event at the Houston County Fair had found a lump in her breast that morning. Her family was quite worried and encouraged her to be screened at the Fair. Her husband shared with our team that she had found the lump in her breast. Our provider performed a clinical breast exam and assured the woman that her lump was not a concern. This gave immediate relief to her and her family that it was not anything to be worried about.
Hennepin Health Foundation: Patient going through her third battle with breast cancer, as a single mom of two pre-teenage daughters. She was forced to move for financial reasons to a home that is farther away from our clinic. We were able to provide her with gas cards enabling her to get to her appointments with us, even though it was a little farther distance, requiring more fuel than when she previously was going through treatment with us. Knowing she had resources for gas, she didn’t have to think about that stressor, allowing her to concentrate on getting better, and overcoming other barriers. We were able to provide her with grocery cards to get nutritious foods for her and her two daughters, as she is too weak to work during this treatment. The groceries helped her obtain quality nutrition, and relieved her of the stress and worry that she is not providing for her children. Due to the added distance between her new “home” and our clinic, she was worried about the increased mileage and cost of gas. We were able to provide her with gas cards, which relieved one more stressor and cause of worry for her, allowing her to get to her treatments and back home in time to meet her children when they got off the bus from school, in a new neighborhood and school system.
M is a 54 year old female diagnosed with invasive carcinoma of the breast.. She and her husband live in Blaine, MN and have 2 adult children who live in nearby states with their spouses. Both of them work full time, she is a coder for a local hospital and works from home. She has several hobbies, but most of note is her excellence as a quilter. She has made some amazing blankets! She came to our clinic after discovering a lump in her left breast, came in for a mammogram. After the mammogram, she had a biopsy which showed cancer in her breast and in her left axilla. We saw her in clinic, and discovered several other concerning problems – pain in her back, her calcium level was very high, her kidneys were not working well and she was quite anemic. Her disease had affected much of her body. In those first months, she was in and out of the hospital every other week for different problems and the start of aggressive chemotherapy. She could not work and her husband, who was with her all the time, could not work either. After the early days, she would be in clinic for for doctor visits, chemotherapy, scans, and lab work. She was here 3 days a week, her husband driving her back and forth from Blaine every time. In no time, her sick benefits from work were depleted as were his. Co pays for everything were mind boggling. We were able to offer her grocery cards. Having that support freed up funds to help with co-pays and helped them manage their debt. They are grateful.
MR is a 61 year old Native American female who was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in 2001. She completed chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, and hormonal therapy. She was lost to follow up for a few years. In 2013, she returned to our clinic with a new breast lump which was found to be cancer along with a positive lymph node. Besides her cancer, she has an extensive history of heart disease including atrial flutter, ventricular tachycardia, and cardiomyopathy and has an implanted defibrillator. She is followed closely by cardiology.Since MR’s diagnosis of recurrent breast cancer and worsening heart problems, she has never missed an appointment. This is remarkable because she lives in Shakopee and does not have a vehicle. Also, of note, she raises four of her grandchildren who all live with her. How does she get back and forth to her 3-4 appointments a month? She takes cabs and gets friends to bring her. Through Komen’s generosity, cab fare has been covered and we are able to give gasoline cards to her friends to help defray their expenses for bringing her here. Her adherence to this very complicated treatment program for the last four years has been dependent on your help. Also, MR receives groceries from Open Arms every week. They are not able to bring food all the way to Shakopee. So, she meets them half way in Bloomington, where they hand off the bags. Again, through the kindness of Komen, she is able to take a cab to pick up nutritious food.
Minnesota Department of Health: This survivor shared her story about being diagnosed with cancer and perceptions of this diagnosis in her home country. She explained that she came from Liberia, and in her country, a cancer diagnosis means death. When she found out she had breast cancer, she assumed she would die. With Komen support, this survivor noted that Sage was able to both educate her about cancer (and the meaning of a cancer diagnosis in this country) and let her know how she could get treatment and recover.
This survivor attended a workshop co-facilitated by Sage staff through Pathways Healing Center in Minneapolis called “Renewing Life”. Renewing LIfe is a workshop designed to empower individuals to live well amidst life-threatening illness and life transitions. This particular workshop was specifically for women with breast cancer.
One of the workshop participants is a woman who was screened for breast cancer through the Sage Program at Minnesota Community Care. During the workshop the survivor brought up to the group what an incredible impact Sage had on her cancer journey. Included in her words, “when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Sage staff gave me courage”. She was able to both educated her about cancer (and the meaning of a cancer diagnosis in this country) and learn about how she could get treatment and recover. She mentioned several times that Sage had an incredible impact on her healing and recovery. Sage was a powerful support person for this woman as she dealt with her breast cancer.
This survivor shared her story about being diagnosed with cancer and perceptions of this diagnosis in her home country. She explained that she came from Liberia, and in her country, a cancer diagnosis means death. When she found out she had breast cancer, she assumed she would die.
A mid-forty year old woman called the Sage Call Center because she needed an ultrasound and eventually an MRI to follow-up a screening mammogram that had a possible finding. She worked with our patient navigator and eventually one of Sage's nurses to find a place to get follow-up care scheduled. She was very concerned because although she did have health insurance, she couldn't afford the copay and deductible charges for the services. She asked our navigator, "What should I do? Take care of myself or feed my kids?" Luckily she met Sage's income guidelines and was eligible to have her follow-up care covered that her insurance did not pay. Because she was under the age of 50, this care was covered with Komen funds.
A 37 year old unemployed college graduate was rock climbing and noticed a lump when trying to adjust her climbing harness. Since both her mother and grandmother had experienced breast cancer, she was concerned. She contacted a friend who worked in a medical clinic and asked for advice. Her friend knew about the Sage program and referred her to a clinic that accepted the program. Within a week, the woman was screened and had her biopsy results. She was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. Because her cancer was found through the Sage Program, her treatment was covered by the State’s MABC Program. Most of her screening services were paid for with Komen grant funds.
Neighborhood HealthSource: “Agnes” lives two doors down from the Fremont Clinic in North Minneapolis. When she learned that we offer mobile on-site mammogram events at our clinic she was ecstatic. Agnes had a friend who died of breast cancer at age 25, and breast cancer runs in her family - one of her cousins died of breast cancer. Agnes shared that her cousin never went to the doctor for a mammogram because she was too scared. So after watching her cousin’s experience she never misses one. Agnes says, “This is just such a great thing you do. This program is saving lives! I couldn’t believe I could get a mammogram at Fremont Clinic, but I walked up and saw the big van and I was so excited. It’s so nice that it’s so close.”
After speaking to a group of church members at a local church, one of the attendees approached our CHW, Ethel. The 64 year old woman never had a mammogram and asked Ethel why she was encouraging women to have them. They had a long discussion about early detection and how it increases the chance of successful treatment and quality of life compared to a late sage diagnosis. The woman shared that her doctor had been recommending a mammogram for several years and she always refused. She heard that mammogram screening is painful and believes it’s unnecessary. She thought doctors were only recommending mammograms for money.
During our CHW’s recruitment calls she spoke to a patient who is 60 years old and had never had a mammogram. She said that many times her provider told her to make an appointment, but she never made one due to fear. Years ago a close family member battled and lost the fight against breast cancer. The memories of this family member and the struggle they experienced pushed her to avoid having a mammogram screening. She not only feared the pain that the screening could bring, but also feared that the outcome. She would often change providers to avoid this pressure. After speaking several times to our CHW and talking about her day and how best we can assist her in making this appointment at the time most convenient for her she finally made the appointment. Our staff assured her that she would have support throughout the process. On the day of the event everything went smoothly – she said everyone was welcoming and the whole process was very pleasant. Our staff has a way of making all the women feel like a big family. She will tell all of her friends and anyone she comes across about the positive experience.
Open Arms: With support from Komen funding, Open Arms was able to provide the client with meals and nutrition and needed for healing and comfort: "Thank you for the wonderful Thanksgiving meals. I also want to thank you for the weekly meals. It has helped me a lot to just put a dinner, a healthy dinner, in the microwave and eat a good, hot, healthy meal every day. Thanks so much!"
Many of Open Arms’ clients face hardships before they receive a diagnosis that leads them to us. For those clients in particular, even those who are fortunate enough to have strong support networks in their friends and family, Open Arms’ service is an important lifeline as they try to focus on healing. A recent card from Peggy, a 2nd grade teacher with breast cancer, illustrates this situation and how our meals were an important resource for her and her family.
“I wanted to send you a special thank you. I received your weekly meal service from late summer through Thanksgiving 2015. I received a diagnosis of breast cancer in May 2015 and was amazed to hear of your organization through my nurse navigator. The meals were so tasty and interesting, and, of course, very healthy. Receiving your meal service was such a blessing and removed so much stress from our lives. Participating in your meal program allowed me to continue to work as a 2nd grade teacher throughout the months of my treatment. My deepest appreciation!”
Many of Open Arms’ clients face hardships before they receive a diagnosis that leads them to us. For those clients in particular, even those who are fortunate enough to have strong support networks in their friends and family, Open Arms’ service is an important lifeline as they try to focus on healing. A note from Kristen, a client with breast cancer, illustrates this situation and how important our meals and volunteers are to her: “I wanted to thank you and your team from Open Arms of Minnesota for all the support you have given me during my battle with breast cancer. Even when I had little energy, it was wonderful to have ready-made meals. The delivery team brightened my day with smiles and greetings. I was especially touched by the special birthday cupcakes! From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all for making my life so much easier.”
Pathways: Below is an excerpt from a thank you letter received from one of our retreat participants:
“I have survived two breast cancer illnesses, and am currently living with Leukemia. I am writing to let you know just how wonderful the camaraderie was for myself and the other women who attended. We all felt the glow throughout, and after this special retreat....There are few opportunities in our lives to have a forum like this, where communication is encouraged, understood, and very much needed in our separate and often painful journeys. The material that Pathways provides for facilitating this retreat holds so much wisdom and hope, and tools for going through what we go through. We do not find this in our daily lives, as no one can completely understand what we go through, like our sisters in the cancer maze can.
Regions Hospital Health Foundation: One Hmong woman with four children was admitted to the hospital after a stroke, and while here she had an oncology work-up that revealed stage II breast cancer. In addition to the significant deficits she experienced as a result of the stroke, including vision changes, she also had to undergo chemotherapy to treat her cancer. Her husband worked two jobs to help keep their family afloat, and your contribution helped us pay their utility bills.
The program also assisted a young woman in paying her mortgage and utility bills. Because of her treatment’s side effects, the woman was unable to work and lost her job. She is originally from China and all of her family remains there, so she had no one to support her locally. The grant helped her remain in her home.
One woman was months behind on her rent after starting treatment for cancer. She had to stop working during treatment and had to wait months before receiving disability. The contribution from Susan G. Komen Minnesota allowed us to offer her assistance with her rent.
Another single mother with two young daughters received help with her rent and utilities. By alleviating the financial burden on this young woman, her anxieties about her basic living needs were eased and she was able to focus more on her health and on caring for her young children."
One woman who was being treated for breast, lung and brain cancer was raising six great grandchildren. Your grant allowed us to assist her with her family’s rent.
Another patient’s husband left her during treatment. Her 16-year-old son supported them with his job, since she couldn’t work during treatment, but they were still evicted from their apartment. Your grant allowed us to help her with the rent of her new place.
Ridgeview Foundation- Pay It Forward Fund: Our patient writes: “As a single parent of my two daughters, I could not work during most of my cancer treatment. The financial burden of medical bills was overwhelming. At first, I thought only of my treatment, but as time went on I became further behind in my bills. This just made my recovery more difficult. Pay It Forward relieved much of this stress by letting me keep ahead of my utilities. When I was diagnosed with cancer the emotional pain was overwhelming. In addition, the pain and side effects of chemo and radiation were almost unbearable. However, the financial instability that accompanies this disease is what can really break a person’s hope and interrupts the healing process. The gift of financial help you have provided me is invaluable. I cannot thank you enough for the much needed assistance.”
We received this letter from a recent PIFF recipient, and quote it directly with certain identifying details and her submitted photograph withheld to preserve anonymity: "My name is [withheld] and I am 37 years old and work as a massage therapist. I live in [northern Mpls suburb] with my husband and our two dogs. I was diagnosed with [breast] cancer in July 2017. I had surgery to remove the tumor, but they recommended chemotherapy and I am currently receiving treatments. We have high hopes for a CURE! Pay It Forward Fund has been such an unexpected blessing in this crazy time in my life. Not only do medical bills accumulate, but there's all this time off from work where I am not earning any money to pay for them while I recover from surgery and go to chemotherapy. Pay It Forward was able to pay for some of these bills and relieve my stress of worrying about how they will get paid. During this time, I and other patients need to be focused on getting well and keeping a positive attitude without adding more stress! As a massage therapist, I hope to learn from my experience and apply my skills to help others going through chemotherapy in the future. The picture I've sent [note: picture withheld for confidentiality] is from the night when I decided to take charge and buzz my hair when it started falling out after the very first chemo treatment. Very liberating! Sincerest thanks, [name withheld]"
Thank you Pay It Forward Fund! No one ever expects to get cancer, certainly not at age 38. I first discovered a lump in my right breast the day we celebrated my son’s 4th birthday in October of 2015. A week later, I went to my OBGYN to check it out. She immediately ordered a mammogram at the Hope Chest Breast Center. The next day, my biggest fear was confirmed and my world was turned upside down. I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Invasive Glandular Carcinoma. Since then, I also discovered I carry the gene mutation, BRCA2. So far, I have undergone 12 out 16 chemo treatments. Soon, I will undergo a bi-lateral mastectomy and oophorectomy, followed by 6 weeks of radiation. Months after that, I will have breast reconstruction. It’s a long road!
I am grateful for The Pay it Forward Fund! By the time that I had my port placed and all the scans and tests done, bills started coming in and it was Christmas time. I am grateful that I had the Pay it Forward fund to pay for expenses, like a big portion of my mortgage for the month. I didn’t have to worry about how I would be able to make Christmas happen for my son who is still too young to understand fully what’s going on. I was able to pay off insurance deductibles that I would have otherwise had to make payments on. Taking the stress off of financial burdens helped me focus on getting well, during the most difficult part of my chemo treatments. Fighting the Fight, Kristen
Following are excerpts from one patient's comments sent during the past six months: "Knowing that I could receive financial help, if needed, helped me concentrate on healing. I am forever grateful to the amazing woman [who founded PIFF] and her insight." Another wrote: "I have stage 4-breast cancer, which has metastasized to my bones. During my transition from short- to long-term disability, I went four weeks without an income. I was already behind on our house payment, so your timing was perfect. With your help, I was able to catch up and we can keep the house! Thank you! These quotes and many others like them that we receive encourage us that our program makes a positive impact on our funding priority, Treatment Support.
We recognize that patients appreciate our financial assistance and we are pleased when our help makes a meaningful difference during their treatment period. But the following story exemplifies the "unexpected" impact after patients' recovery. This Survey 2 response, written over a year past recovery, inspires us to continue our work, and reinforces our belief in the power of "paying it forward." Our patient writes: "I was so overwhelmed by the generosity of others when I was receiving treatment and to this day, as at stage 4 my battle continues and fortunately so has my support system. I have been inspired and understand better than most what a little emailed note, a post on caringbridge, a meal or even a $20.00 bill in a card can do. I am presently helping on a benefit for another cancer patient and I have participated in several fundraising walks, to support some individuals I know/have known and for all others out there battling. I also know that the family/caregivers need support, so I make a special effort to recognize their efforts and send a card/note/text/email asking how they are doing and offering emotional support to them too. Most times it is the little things that make the biggest difference. I live each and everyday to the fullest and I'm always trying to "pay if forward". Thank you again for your financial support." Over 55% of respondents to our Survey 2 described ways they have sought to assist others after recovery. These are our heroes!
Crystal had worked as a janitor for 14 years as she raised her four children, but lost her job right before she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Pay It Forward was able to cover her mortgage and utility bills so she could focus on healing. These are Crystal's words: "As a working person, it was hard to accept help. I don't like sympathy. But they made me think maybe there is nothing wrong with taking help just this once. During that time of darkness, it was a light that came and shined on me. To think they did this for someone they didn't even know. That's a beautiful thing."
Southside: One of the many stories that stood out was from an African American woman in her early thirties. She gave a family history of her aunt who had passed away at an early age from breast cancer. She also shared that her mother had a lump removed after having a mammogram that revealed a mass. When the conversation continued to include breast health exams, she shared that she had not done a self-breast exam but she thought she had a clinical breast exam. One of our breast health community health workers was able to provide education about breast health and things to keep in mind given her personal family history and the fact that African American women have a history of getting breast cancer at an earlier age than other women. The woman was surprised to learn the breast cancer statistics for African American women. She was thankful for the Susan G. Komen brochures and she actually asked for additional tools to give to others. She explained that the conversation, although unexpected, was welcomed and she left feeling empowered, educated and ready to educate others in her family and community.
Southside Community Health Services (SCHS) regularly holds an outreach event at the Center for Changing Lives in Minneapolis. One of SCHS’s Outreach staff members had a conversation with an African American woman who was uninsured and had a family history of breast cancer. Once the woman became comfortable talking to the Outreach staff person, she explained that her mother and aunt had breast cancer and that she feared there was a genetic link. She heard about the importance of doing her Breast Self-Exams (BSE) and she said she did them from time to time however not regularly. She was unsure if she had a clinical breast exam (CBE). The Outreach staff person wanted to make sure the woman was receiving regular check-ups including women’s health care services and thus asked the woman if she had a primary care clinic. She said she did not and so the Outreach worker referred her to a provider for a CBE. The Outreach staff person also educated the woman about the importance of doing regular BSEs and receiving CBEs and mammograms. The Outreach staff person stressed that since the woman has risk factors for breast cancer and she is approaching the age of 40, it is very important to receive regular, recommended breast cancer exams. To remove the barrier to insurance, the Outreach worker provided the woman with information about the SAGE program as well as MNsure assistance. The woman was very thankful and followed up at another SCHS outreach event stating she completed her CBE.
Vietnamese Social Services: - A Vietnamese woman, P. B. came to visit her daughter in Minnesota as a tourist from Vietnam and intended to stay in Minnesota as an immigrant. She has a lump in her breast and the lump has opened a sore and was bleeding for a few months. She used herbal medicine to cover the sore. The daughter called our program when she heard about the mobile van that comes to VSS for free mammography in a collaboration with Park Nicollet and Minnesota Department of Health.
- The doctor found out her lump was extremely serious and she needed to go to see a surgeon immediately. She got a referral to Park Nicolle on the same day she came to VSS for a mammogram.
- She was diagnosed with breast cancer and needed treatment right away. VSS staff helped her to apply for Medical Assistance for breast cancer. She got approval for medical assistance for one month to have cancer treatment. After that, VSS staff had to help her to apply for emergency medical assistance program so, she will be able to continue with the treatment.
- P. B. is feeling better now after two months of treatment. She will still have to go for a long way for the cancer treatment. She would like to speak to other women to let them know that there are a lot of chances for survival and programs in America that can help women to prevent breast cancer. She would like to encourage women to please go to breast screening for early detection and don't wait until it is too late.
West Side Community Health Services: What our patients go through is unthinkable. It's hard to imagine how a person can endure so much pain and let down in our healthcare system, without just giving up. One story is of a woman, that one afternoon came to the clinic looking for help. She had a prominent breast lump and was very concerned about it. While the doctors where doing a breast exam on her, she shared that she went to see a physician, multiple times, but she was ignored due to a recent miscarriage she suffered. Physicians at our clinics were here and was concerned about the size of the lump. We quickly scheduled an appointment the next day at the breast center. After that appointment, with the help of a biopsy, cancer was diagnosed. Without programs that we conduct and funding through grants as the Komen, this story may have been not a success, but a tragedy.
Another story was of a female patient, age 44, had her first mammogram last year, through this very program we operated with the assistance of the Komen funding. She has only been in the U.S since 2013. When she came in for the mammogram, in 2018, I was able to talk to her about some family planning options and other preventive care such as pap smears. This same patient has scheduled her second mammogram, this year at our Mammo Van event in June 2018.
Also, there was a patient, a Hmong woman, who was an immigrant. She never has a mammogram, until our program.
Our Hmong health educator met her at one of the Metropolitan State and Neighborhood House food distribution event. The patient was so excited to hear about the mammo van event that she kept calling me to remind her about the mammo van event. She was an ideal patient and as she arrived to her appointment, she was optimistic. She is already to sign up again for the event we will have in June. We overcome barriers by conducting outreach not only through our events, but year round. We have staff hand out flyers, not only in our clinic lobby, but within our community (i.e., grocery stores, etc.).
Komen made the mammogram an appealing experience by raising awareness and having incentives to increase participation. The women mentioned above had normal results, but it was such a significant event because the screening were made available to those that never had been screened or may never would have had the opportunity to be screened.
This is a story about a Mexican native who arrived at the clinic back in November with breast problems. A mammogram and other tests confirmed a cancer diagnosis. Her option was a lumpectomy and radiation. She struggled with side effects, but she kept strong. The CHW called often and encouraged the patient to keep fighting. She shared that her real pain was not the treatment. Her real pain was not having a good relationship with her children. She left them in El Salvador when they were young. She told about how she cried every night because of the decision she made all those years ago to choose survival and a better future for her family. Five years ago, she finally reunited with her three children. There was a problem though, because the patient had another daughter who was born here in the USA. The relationship between the older children and this youngest child was not good. The older children felt hurt from the 15 years they lived without their mother. They found it upsetting to see the youngest sister having the opportunity they never had of growing up with a mom right there. If there is something good that can come out of a cancer diagnosis, then this was it. Her family realized that their mother was really sick and that they could loose her. Through talk and understanding, they were able to forgive their mother. Now, they are fighting cancer together as a family. She has finished her treatments and is looking forward to a bright future surrounded by her children.
A Hmong woman came to the clinic for her annual well woman physical. She had just turned forty and so her provider presented the option of a mammogram, which the patient promptly declined. She did not have any symptoms and she thought it was unnecessary. The CHW spoke to the patient afterwards to give her more information about breast health and explained the mammogram exam, what it entails, and why it’s important. The patient still felt uneasy and left the clinic without a mammogram ordered. The CHW followed up with her by phone the next day and the patient agreed to have a mammogram. It turned out the patient had spoken with a friend about mammograms and got the reassurance to proceed. An appointment was scheduled for her at Regions and the CHW met her there to ensure that she would be available to answer questions and lend support. The patient and CHW arrived for the appointment and in less than 20 minutes, they were all finished. The patient had a great experience. She found that the clinical staff was friendly and the mammogram screening took less time than she had thought. Her results were normal but it changed her perspective on preventative screenings and she plans to be screened every year.
M was referred by her West Side provider for a mammogram. She had completed mammograms in the past that were found to be “abnormal”, and so she was very nervous about getting a mammogram done at this time. M had a normal clinical breast exam at West Side, and then was referred to a local hospital for her mammogram. She called the CHW a few times before her mammogram appointment to clarify various details and to make sure she had everything right. M sounded nervous each time, so the CHW reassured her that she was doing the right thing by completing the screening. She also assured M that if she did need more follow up , the CHW and West Side would help her every step of the way. The day came and M completed her mammogram. All went well, but the hospital sent her results written in English! M had been anxiously awaiting her results, so she called the CHW and asked her to translate, which she happily did. Thankfully, M’s results were normal, with follow up recommended in 12 months. The news of her negative results brought M peace of mind and such relief. M expressed her gratitude to the CHW for being there to answer her questions, to support her and to be a personal connection during this unsettling experience.