Black Women, Breast Cancer and Financial Toxicity: Finding An Ally in a Daunting Fight

Breast Cancer and the accompanying money burdens are a struggle, but the Michigan-based Pink Fund is giving much needed help.

It all happened so fast.

After completing a self-exam and feeling two lumps in her breasts, Danetta Hall saw several doctors before receiving a final diagnosis of HER2-positive Breast Cancer in 2022. Overwhelmed by her diagnosis, treatment, and financial stress, she felt numb– until a social worker suggested that she seek help.

She got it from the Pink Fund, a suburban Detroit-based nonprofit organization that works to address the financial burdens of people living with breast cancer across the nation by providing a 90-day grant program that offers funding for critical, non-medical expenses such as transportation, housing, insurance, and utilities.

According to American Cancer Society figures, one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and for people like Hall, the reality of juggling active treatment with other critical expenses can be debilitating. But because of the help she got, Hall was able to receive funding for three months of rent and avoid eviction.

Since its founding in 2006, The Pink Fund has funded approximately $7.4 million in non-medical expenses to date. As part of their most recent efforts, the Pink Fund is working to further their work, bridge disparity gaps, and alleviate what is called financial toxicity for women of color– especially Black women.

“I describe what we do like a game of Jenga. Your life is a Jenga tower, and we're trying to keep it stable,” said Molly MacDonald, co-founder and CEO. “We stabilize you with a financial bridge of 90 days.”

Financial toxicity is the financial burden that is often induced by one’s cancer treatment. Not only can it impede the quality of life and quality of care of breast cancer patients in active treatment, but it can also lead to larger mortality rates. This is often exacerbated among marginalized women.

According to the Pink Fund’s research, those in active cancer treatment experience a 130 percent increase in financial difficulty, including a 42 percent increase for minorities, and 27 percent report at least one financial hardship like debt or bankruptcy.

I’m a Survivor: Breast Cancer Stories

Read on and be inspired by these stories from real women.

Brittany Fleming, 34, Baltimore, Maryland
Amani Brooks, 20, Clinton, Maryland
Gleny Rodriguez, 35, Brooklyn, NY
Shante Thomas, 36, Accokeek, Maryland - “My experience with breast cancer has taught me that I can handle so much more than I thought was humanly possible. At no point did I let my diagnosis get me down. After having countless doctor’s appointments, scans, blood work, chemo, a lumpectomy and radiation, I came through it all OK. I had to learn to take it one day at a time, find my inner strength and courage and to rely heavily on my faith to get through this journey. Breast cancer has also strengthened some of my relationships (having the support of my family, friends and coworkers made all the difference) and weakened others. I want everyone to know that being diagnosed with breast cancer is not a death sentence.”  (Photo: Courtesy of Shante Thomas) 
Brittany Fleming, 34, Baltimore, Maryland - “My journey with breast cancer was different than what I expected. Upon being diagnosed, I felt hopeless as many people often feel. However, when I discussed my situation with my oncologist and he revealed the latest treatment opportunities available to me, which included Perjeta and Herceptin, I felt confident that I had a bright future ahead of me. Throughout the treatment process, my belief that I would return to normal rarely wavered. After completing my treatment — which included chemotherapy, surgery and radiation — my life slowly returned back to normal, and I created a tutoring program for kids. Surviving breast cancer taught me that true strength doesn't come from what you can do, it comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn't overcome.” (Photo: Courtesy of Brittany Fleming) 
Amani Brooks, 20, Clinton, Maryland - “In September 2013, my godmother Sybrina was diagnosed with breast cancer. Up until then, I had never thought much about breast cancer, but I quickly learned a lot. It was an emotional time, but I learned to treasure the important things more than ever. My godmother had a double mastectomy two months after her diagnosis and is now cancer free. For her and for all breast cancer survivors, we celebrate! She continues to be a blessing to my mom and me. I designed the tattoo in the picture and my godmother and mother, Lisa, and I all got it on our wrists as a show of solidarity. We share an incredible bond, which breast cancer only strengthened. Having a support system is critical during such a trying time.” (Photo: Courtesy of Amani Brooks) 
Gleny Rodriguez, 35, Brooklyn, New York - “I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 33. I felt a lump on my breast while taking a shower. When I went to my doctor to get it checked, she told me I was too young, that as women get older their breasts produce lumps and that I had nothing to worry about. But I felt uneasy and asked to see a specialist — who also told me I was too young to worry and that I didn’t need further testing. But I insisted on having a mammogram. When the results came back, he was in awe. He informed me that I had cancer and had to start treatment immediately. I cried for days, knowing that my life and body would change. Because I learned that it would be very hard for me to get pregnant after chemo, I quickly froze my eggs. Chemo was a very hard process for me and the physical changes were beyond what I was expecting. My faith, family and frie... 

Finding Answers for Black Women

After being diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in 2005, MacDonald founded the Pink Fund alongside her husband, Tom Pettit, in order to alleviate the financial stress and toxicity of people living with breast cancer and to advocate for them.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death for women in the United States, but for Black women, it is number one. Black women also have a lower survival rate at every stage of disease, along with a higher rate of diagnosis.

“There is a higher rate of genetic breast cancer in the Black community, particularly for triple-negative breast cancer, which does not respond to treatment well. So you have a higher mortality rate,” said MacDonald. “And genetic testing is very important if you have a family history. It’s highly unlikely that you're going to get genetic testing if you're the first person in your family to present with breast cancer.”

Courtesy: The Pink Fund

Genetics play a huge role with regard to tracking the likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer. For example, ZERO Prostate Cancer states that Black men are much more likely to develop and die from prostate cancer. It is also believed by researchers that the same gene alteration responsible for prostate cancer could be responsible for ovarian and breast cancer. For families with a history of one, there exists the possibility that the others could develop.

The social determinants of health, which refers to non-medical factors that influence one’s health, also come into play for Black women who might be in need of care. These factors include economic stability, level of education and access to quality healthcare.

“One of the other health concerns is that there is a higher rate of what's known as ‘comorbidities’ in the Black community,” MacDonald said. “Diabetes, obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, and all of those comorbidities are pretty much driven by the social determinants of health. And that actually creates more problems for people because they're already in treatment for those diseases that are chronic.”

Breast cancer is not chronic unless it is metastatic, which means that it has spread to other parts of the body. However, its intersections with health and non-health related factors can be detrimental for Black women.

With this in mind, the organization aims to educate Black women on breast cancer and how they can thrive financially. Jeanna English, the Pink Fund’s Strategic Partnership Manager, aims to expand its reach in a number of ways, including participation in forums and town halls that address health inequity, along with allocating funds to specifically reach people of color.

“One of the things that is really important to the Pink Fund is that we have a Community Outreach Team,” English said. “They reach out to social workers across the country to let them know about the Pink Fund. Then we're able to help in some way.”

As the group continues to work towards providing funds for men, women and families in need of financial assistance, they are also looking for more corporate partners and individualized donors who can help ensure that the work will continue expanding.

“We have the data to show what we do,” English said. “We can tell that every dollar goes to helping in some financial way.”

Seven Ways to Support Breast Cancer Research (and Patients)

Here's what you can do to help.

woman driving
woman running outside in pink gear
woman on her laptop
Do You - You would have to have set up residence under a boulder to not know it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But what can you do to impact the lives of those who have been — or will be — diagnosed with this disease? Read on to find out. By Kenrya Rankin Naasel (Photo: Phillip Graybill/Corbis) 
Volunteer - Get involved in the fight against this disease by joining forces with the National Breast Cancer Foundation; being a “virtual volunteer” is as simple as tweeting and posting about the struggle and progress. Or sign-up via the American Cancer Society to drive chemo patients to appointments or help provide makeovers for women going through treatment. (Photo: DreamPictures/Blend Images/Corbis) 
Run (Or Golf or Cook or...) - Yeah, the 5Ks get the most attention, but did you know there are tons of local events of all kinds you can participate in to raise money for breast cancer research? Head here to find one near you.  (Photo: Paul Simcock/Corbis) 
Click Here - It doesn’t get any easier than this: Just click the pink button on this site once a day, every day, and the site will make a donation to help fund a mammogram.  (Photo: Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Corbis) 

MacDonald hopes that the organization could one day reduce financial barriers that discourage diverse groups of women from participating in clinical trials, as this could lead to better data to help marginalized women. But right now, she and the Pink Fund team are happy to help other “SurThrivors” rebuild their financial wealth and to show Black women that they are a priority.

In the year since her diagnosis, Hall still finds herself overwhelmed and at times numb due to her diagnosis and the associated costs. However, she is thankful to the Pink Fund and urges other Black women to seek help when needed. She also encourages Black women to self-advocate at all times.

“Don't feel ashamed if you have to get help. Advocate for yourself,” Hall said. “Always make sure that you check and see what medications you're taking. Do your research. Join support groups. And just stay encouraged because breast cancer isn't a death sentence anymore.”

For more information about the Pink Fund, how to help or donate to their cause visit their website:


Editor's Note: This story has been updated for clarification of the name: Pink Fund.

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