Imagine you’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer. You’re terrified about what lies ahead. You ask your doctor about treatment options, pain management, and survival rates. You have never felt more frightened in your life.
You go into work and tell your boss about your devastating news, hoping for support and comfort. Instead, you are let go from your job. You no longer have an income and your health coverage has changed dramatically.
San Diego resident, Tina, doesn’t have to imagine what this would feel like because it is exactly what happened to her.
Sadly, many women find themselves in dire financial situations after they are diagnosed with breast cancer. Even if they are not fired from their jobs, disability insurance does not match their job income. Health care and medication costs can skyrocket. They may need to drive further and more frequently for chemotherapy, radiation, or oncology visits.
This is where Shades of Pink California steps in. The nonprofit foundation was founded in 2013 by Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sisters Kianne Farmer and Christina Fulcher after they learned about the unmet financial need of breast cancer patients. They attended a sorority alumni event where the founder of Shades of Pink Foundation Michigan was a guest speaker. They were moved by the stories of women supporting each other. The friends decided to launch their own chapter of the Shades of Pink Foundation in their home state of California, and invited their mothers, Vembra Holnagel and Sonya Fulcher, to join the board of directors.
Today, the organization is powered by nine volunteers, who have awarded more than $178,000 in grants to women struggling to make ends meet. Funds are used for living expenses like rent, groceries, utilities, auto insurance, and/or health care.
“They saved me,” says Tina, who tears up remembering receiving her award. “I can’t describe how it felt knowing someone else has been in this position and actually cared about me and gave me gas cards and grocery cards and helped with my car insurance.”
Tina is one of nearly 150 women in San Diego County who has received funding for up to $2,000 from Shades of Pink California. Tracy is a veteran of the U.S. Navy who told the review committee that she was applying for a grant “to keep a roof over (her) head.”
“Stories like these are heartbreaking,” says Holnagel who lost a close friend to breast cancer. “Jean was a girlfriend you can’t replace and I watched the disease take her slowly. She had the funds to pay for good care and help at home when needed, and a loving and caring family, but I soon learned that this was not the case for many others.”
Shades of Pink California raises funds by partnering with local businesses and organizations, which host events and donate all or part of their proceeds to the foundation. For example, Oceanside Police Department officers wear special pink patches on their uniforms commemorating Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. Its website offers the patches for $10 and donates the funds to the foundation. Encinitas restaurant and concert venue Priority Public House is hosting a “Dine-In” Day on Oct. 24 and donating a portion of its revenue to Shades of Pink California. The Bike for Boobs event on Nov. 9, and Purse Bingo in the spring, will also donate proceeds to provide direct support to Shades of Pink California grant recipients. Platinum California has developed a “Pink Kush” cannabis oil strain and will donate a portion of sales to Shades of Pink California.
“It has been tremendously gratifying to work with our community sponsors to provide much-needed financial assistance to women in San Diego who need support while they are undergoing treatment for breast cancer,” says Farmer.
Every day in San Diego County six women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Seventy percent of the women who apply for Shades of Pink California grants are single or heads of their household. Together, Shades of Pink California Foundation and their supporters are helping create a community where no woman has to imagine being unable to pay her bills while in treatment.