By Nancy Price
A breast cancer diagnosis invokes many emotions: fear, shock and disbelief, to name a few. Then there are financial costs involved: surgery, chemo or radiation. Some women may need to take unpaid leave from work and pay for childcare while receiving treatment.
In addition, COVID has affected many families financially the past six months. There’s additional worries: What if I lose my job? Will I have enough money to retire? My immune system is already compromised – what if I’m infected with COVID as well?
The stress and anxiety at that point is overwhelming, to say the least.
“This year we’ve helped more women than ever because there are so many families that have experienced a loss of income,” said Dori Sparks-Unsworth, executive director of Pink Ribbon Connection. “Your fears are greater. Isolation is greater. Everything is heightened because of the environment that we’re in.”
A FREE PROVIDER
A Southside Indianapolis-based nonprofit, Pink Ribbon Connection serves breast cancer survivors throughout the state by providing free supplies, including wigs, mastectomy bras, scarves, hats and toiletry items; one-to-one peer counseling; educational sessions and more.
“It is very expensive to survive cancer,” said Jolie Patterson, office manager for Pink Ribbon Connection and a breast cancer survivor. “And we had really good insurance (when diagnosed). It is still very expensive. For two years, I my maximum out of pocket was, like, $7,000 and I hit that pretty early on.”
Pink Ribbon relies on private donors, sponsors and volunteers and hosts multiple fundraisers each year, from an annual fashion show and dine-to-donate events to purse bingo and a coat drive. (Gloves, hats and scarves are also collected and donated.)
“I can remember Dori saying, ‘there are underprivileged women going through treatment who have to stand on the street corner (during winter without coats) and take a bus to go get treatment,’” said Ashley Newsom, a Perry Township resident and breast cancer survivor. She also serves on the organization’s board. “I live in this bubble with my car. I couldn’t wrap my mind around that. So, one of my very favorite things that we do is that coat drive in November. Coats can be gently used.”
A few times a year the office hosts “bras and breakfast” events, when women can enjoy a free to-go breakfast and pick up to three free mastectomy bras. The next event will be held Nov. 7, 9 a.m. to noon at 1139 Shelby St. Indianapolis, IN 46227, and is by appointment only. To schedule an appointment, call (317) 255-PINK (7465) or email email@example.com.
As well as financial support, Pink Ribbon offers a peer counseling helpline to women for emotional support. “We can connect them with a seasoned survivor who’s already been through what that patient is going through and that seems to make an enormous difference with emotional support, that women go, ‘OK, I’ve got somebody I can call when I’m freaking out,’” said Sparks-Unsworth. “When they call, we match them with a survivor who’s a similar age, similar martial status, lives in the (same) region. Many times, it’s a lifelong friendship. It’s been really beneficial to patients who’ve been newly diagnosed.”
In addition to receiving monthly newsletters, educational seminars are offered on a variety of topics related to breast cancer, such as chemo, nutrition, fitness and stress. The next seminar, “Oncology Updates in the Treatment of Breast Cancer” will be presented by Dr. Ruemu Birhiray, oncology specialist and held via Zoom Oct. 29 from 5:30-7 p.m. Guests may contact the office at (317) 255-PINK (7465) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Meeting ID is: 872 883 5726, and the password is 746574.
Newsom, who has a genetic history of breast cancer on both sides of her family, highly encourages women to get yearly mammograms. She began getting mammograms at age 38 and was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40. For women who put off mammograms because they fear pain, Newsom explained that it only hurts for a few seconds.
Sparks-Unsworth also advocates monthly self-examinations in the shower and advises that women consistently choose the first week after their period to do them, as breasts are not as tender or lumpy during this time as they may be during menstruation.
For more information about Pink Ribbon Connection, go to pinkribbonconnection.org.
Stars of Pink: 26th Annual Breast Cancer Survivor Fashion Show (Virtual)
ABOUT: The fashion show celebrates breast cancer survivors and features inspiring stories of breast cancer survivors as they model to music and narration of their courageous journeys with breast cancer. Funds generated from the show support Pink Ribbon Connection as it delivers resources and support to breast cancer patients and their families free of charge.
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 10, 7:30 p.m.
TO WATCH: The Pink Ribbon Connection Facebook page or go to markeys.onl/pinkribbonfashionshow.html
COST: Free to breast cancer survivors, their families, health care providers and the community at-large.