I’m posting something a little different today because I want my readers to know more about what the Pretty in Pink Foundation does to fight breast cancer in North Carolina. This is a fight all of us can support since one out of eight women will deal with breast cancer at some point in their lives.

With the increasing costs of health care, foundations such as the Pretty in Pink Foundation based in Raleigh, N.C. are vital. Pretty in Pink Foundation’s mission is to provide financial assistance to uninsured and underinsured breast cancer patients of both sexes with quality, life-saving treatment regardless of their ability to pay. It is the only non-profit of its kind in North Carolina that serves individuals, called champions, through a non-clinical one-stop shop clearinghouse that includes community referrals, case management, education and targeted outreach programs. The seeds of the organization grew when Dr. Lisa Tolnitch, a breast surgeon at Tolnitch Surgical Associates in Raleigh, wanted to make a difference by helping ten women a year in Wake County in 2004. Now, they are serving their 1,000th champion.

Pretty in Pink provides pre-negotiated services for every stage of breast cancer treatment and recovery to include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation at no cost for its champions. Twenty percent of women in North Carolina are uninsured and more than 14 percent live below the federal poverty level. Pretty in Pink offers sliding scale financial assistance based on income and asset level as it fills the gap with educational and support services to prevent breakdowns in the chain of care. Beside cancer treatment services, the organization also provides assistance with transportation, prosthetics, wigs, skincare, bra fittings, haircuts, and makeup.

Executive director, Penny Lauricella and Bernadette Pickles, director of development and volunteer services work diligently on bringing on board medical and oncology teams to offset their billing charges to get the champions’ charges down to the Medicaid rate to make them more affordable. “We try to eliminate the burden on the patients themselves not to worry about the finances,” remarks Pickles, “another challenge is to creating the financial flow to come continually.” Furthermore, the organization recruits breast cancer specialists and surgeons to negotiate fee-for-services in imaging and advanced diagnostic scanning procedures such as CT’s and PET’s. More than 153 physicians in 52 counties in North Carolina volunteer their services and 49 medical facilities reduce their fees for Pretty in Pink.

The Pretty in Pink “Gold” Card

All champions receive a Pretty in Pink insurance card (a “Gold” card) that they present when they go in for treatments and then their bills are sent back to Pretty in Pink. Their claim is processed with funds the organization raises through corporate and individual donations, third parties, fundraisers, charity events and pledge drives such as “Beyond the Ribbon.” The organization continually reminds the community that breast cancer awareness needs to go on 24/7/365. Says Pickles, “Penny and I build relationships with local small businesses here. Cancer doesn’t have limitations on who it can touch and who it can affect. Cancer hits us close and personal. We allow these businesses to get the word out with us. We want people to know we exist. People get diagnosed every day—cancer doesn’t wait. It’s a very profound position to be in once you’re diagnosed—it takes your breath away. The very next moment you say, you realize wow, where do I go, how to I begin to process this. You don’t think about the finances—wow, I don’t have insurance, what am I going to do here. We’re here to hopefully give them the opportunity to be able to exhale.”

Linda Michael, 61, from Wake Forest, N.C. found out about Pretty in Pink through her breast surgeon, Dr. Nancy Crowley of Tolnitch Surgical Associates. “I was overwhelmed, I didn’t have a job. It’s difficult to ask people to give you something. Penny made me feel so welcome and not bad for asking for money. At Pretty in Pink I was treated like a person they wanted to help. When you find an organization like this that really cares about people it’s a fresh breath. They are a phenomenal organization.”

“Who are you going to say ‘no’ to?”

After a champion has been gone through the application process and the Pretty in Pink team gets a snapshot of their needs as well as information about their diagnosis and oncology team, the next question is to figure out where are they in their cancer stage. Says Pickles, “We have a categorically list of A (top of list and if they don’t get the care today, their chance of survival is shrinking), B, or C. This is hard—who are we going to serve first? Who are you going to say ‘no’ to? Some champions have to wait.”

If Pretty in Pink must turn a potential champion away, they refer that person to other community resources and then track their progress. “We ask them if they know they have access to a patient navigator or other resources they didn’t know about. We hope not to duplicate the wheel and we try to be the last resort for resources because our monies are limited, but at the same time if there’s another facility that’s built for their needs we will then allow them to go back to that facility that will provide for them,” remarks Pickles.

“We don’t know what is going to happen on any given day.”

“Every champion’s treatment is different, complex and individualized,” says Pickles, “You don’t have a black and white system—some of their needs are short and some are comprehensive. Each person has a specific prescription for recovery. We don’t know what is going to happen on any given day. Every day is a gift, the needs out there are insurmountable, but even if you give a hug and say we’re here—the greatest gift I can give someone when they come to our office is to the turn their cancer off for five minutes. Every day there will be more people diagnosed and Pretty in Pink will be here for each one of them.”

Support Pretty in Pink by liking their Facebook page and get involved in the fight!