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.
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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.”
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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: https://pinkfund.org/
Editor's Note: This story has been updated for clarification of the name: Pink Fund.
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