I Believed I Could, So I Did.
Born and raised in the suburbs of Detroit, my childhood was spent living about a mile from the palatial Lakeshore Drive estate of Henry Ford II, whose father launched Ford Motor Company in 1903, his third attempt to establish an automotive business, on the simple belief that he could.
“Whether you think you can, or you can’t, you’re right.” - Henry Ford
Ever since April 1, 2005, when I became a sister in the sorority no one “rushes” to join, this phrase has stuck with me.
My breast cancer diagnosis came at a time of job transition, leaving me unemployed and unemployable while I underwent five months of treatment.
Left to raise five children on my own, I had been through a financially devastating divorce 8 years earlier. I received no alimony as my former husband bankrupted us into the millions (yes, millions).
Child support was sporadic, and like many Americans, I had no savings. My “newish” husband of three years was self-employed in the luxury piano business which had tanked, and his work on the concert stage was sporadic.
The loss of my income, coupled with a $1300 monthly COBRA premium (to ensure my access to life saving care) resulted in our inability to make our house payment.
Within three months, foreclosure notices were stuffed into my mailbox. Every 58 days I was threatened with vehicle repossession and toward the end of my treatment, when the utility companies had lost patience waiting for payment, we were threatened with shut-off notices.
Eight years before Doctors Yousuf Zafar and Amy Abernethy of Duke University coined the term financial toxicity—I was living it.
What’s more so were the dozens of other women I met in treatment waiting rooms. Many of them openly shared their concerns that treatment, deductibles and co-pays, combined with lost income as a result of the physical side effects of chemo and radiation, would send them into financial ruin.
Ask any breast cancer survivor and he or she can rattle off a litany of side effects—ones that can make your hair stand on end.
Listening to their conversations, and the impossible and possibly life altering decisions they were making, I was appalled.
“We are going to have to sell our home.”
“I am going to have to liquidate my retirement savings and pay the taxes.”
“I will have to pull my son home from college.”
And the most egregious...
“I am going to stop treatment and go back to work.”
It was then I made a life altering decision for me, and since then the thousands of women Pink Fund has been able to help with our financial bridge program.
I decided to start a nonprofit that would pay the non-medical, basic cost of living bills for patients in active treatment for up to 90 days.
When I went home to inform Tom Terrific, the moniker I have given my husband (because truly, who would marry a twice divorced middle aged woman, with five children, night sweats and a mildly demented mother, if the guy wasn't terrific or insane) of my decision.
He looked at me like not only had I lost a breast, I had now lost my mind.
But, because he shared my bed, he knew what was good for him, and went along with it, nevertheless protesting. We had just rescued our home from foreclosure, I had negotiated a deal to extend the lease on my car and completed my treatment.
The nightly pans of lasagna that were delivered to our front porch stopped, and I was now in line in the basement of a church foodbank pantry to help feed our family.
Others to whom I excitedly shared my news, questioned how I thought I could do this. “What makes you think you can pay someone else’s bills, when you can barely pay your own?”
“You need to quit this idea and get a job.”
To all their very salient questions my response was, “I don’t know, I just BELIEVE I can.”
And that belief has fueled me to this day. Despite the challenges of having no nonprofit or fundraising experience, developing a board of directors, working for six years as a volunteer while working other jobs to pay my own bills, hiring staff, and taking Pink Fund national, Tom Terrific, my true co-founder, has stood by me.
And together with all the amazing people who have heard my story and BELIEVED, Pink Fund has delivered more than $6.8 million nationwide to patients' creditors for housing, transportation, utilities and insurance.
As a little girl, my mother used to read me the classic children’s book, The Little Engine That Could, a story of belief, hard work and optimism. A story that fueled my belief that if I thought I could, I would.
And I did.