Pink Fund Patient Voices: Marlena M. - The Pink Fund

Pink Fund Patient Voices: Marlena M.

Marlena M. is a 2018 Pink Fund recipient. 

Pink Fund: Can you please share your story and introduce yourself to our Pink Fund Cancer Care Community?

Marlena M.: I'm Marlena M., and in June 2018, I was diagnosed with stage 3 triple-negative breast cancer. My treatment included chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, radiation, and the use of chemo pills (Xeloda). Despite the challenges, I was determined to persevere through this phase of my cancer journey. In March 2022, my journey took an unexpected turn with a recurrence, and I was diagnosed with metastatic triple-negative breast cancer. Since May 2022, I've been undergoing chemotherapy with Gemcitabine (completed in January 2023) and Carboplatin, coupled with immunotherapy using Keytruda. Navigating this intricate path of treatment has been particularly challenging, given that I also balance the responsibilities of being a mom to a teenage daughter. Adding to the complexity, I completed my Master's degree in clinical mental health counseling in May 2023. Throughout my last year of grad school, I attended classes, worked in my internship, continued being a dedicated mom, and managed part-time work, all while undergoing treatment.

PF: At what point did you realize that you were facing financial toxicity as a result of your breast cancer diagnosis?

MM: The realization of facing financial toxicity as a result of my breast cancer diagnosis struck me immediately in 2018. At that time, I made the decision to discontinue the work I was doing as a contractor for the Federal government, where I conducted background investigations. Recognizing the stress associated with that line of work, I saw it as a sign to exit that field. However, this decision brought about significant financial challenges, compelling me to rely on support from breast cancer organizations like Pink Fund, as well as assistance from family and friends. The financial strain became even more apparent when I encountered an urgent need for a new engine for my car, coinciding with the time of my diagnosis. Financial constraints left me unable to cover the costs of the necessary repairs and replacement. To address this, I took the initiative to set up a GoFundMe campaign, seeking financial assistance to address this immediate need. Before my diagnosis in 2018, I also worked part-time at an entertainment event space. However, the demands of my treatments, the accompanying side effects, and the risk associated with being around large crowds forced me to reduce my working hours significantly. The side effects of chemotherapy, post-surgery pain, fatigue from radiation, and chemo-induced neuropathy created conditions that made it impossible for me to maintain my previous work schedule. As a result, my income dwindled, contributing to the financial toxicity I faced during this challenging period.

PF: How did the financial strain impact your emotional well-being and overall cancer journey?

MM: The financial strain had a profound impact on my emotional well-being throughout my cancer journey. It led to feelings of sadness, worry, and ironically, empathy for others facing similar challenges. Having had a stable career as an investigator since 2003, I was accustomed to a consistent income flow. Many individuals grappling with financial strains, including myself, had previously enjoyed successful careers and comfortable lives. However, the onset of cancer disrupted this stability. Despite the difficulties, I am thankful for my faith and the belief that letting go of my role as an investigator was the right decision for me in light of the breast cancer diagnosis. The support from my family and friends was instrumental in navigating this challenging period. Without this strong support network, I can envision falling into a deep depression. Consequently, I recognized the importance of sharing not only the physical aspects of the breast cancer journey but also the invisible struggles, including the financial ones. The financial strain prompted me to be more transparent with my daughter, explaining the reality of our situation. I conveyed that we couldn't afford to engage in spontaneous and enjoyable activities as these incurred costs, emphasizing the need to allocate funds wisely for essentials. In essence, the financial strain compelled me to reevaluate our needs versus wants, fostering a deeper understanding of our priorities.

PF: Can you tell us about Pink Fund and how you came to know about this organization?

MM: I first learned about Pink Fund through fellow breast cancer patients and survivors. When my income declined due to changes in the entertainment venue industry in 2018/2019, I became aware of the support offered by Pink Fund. Upon applying and providing the necessary documentation, Pink Fund directly assisted me by making payments to several of my bills. This brought immense relief, as I didn't have to worry about those specific financial obligations during the months when Pink Fund provided support. Despite my current diagnosis being metastatic, I haven't applied for social security disability, a requirement for metastatic patients. This decision from Pink Fund aligns with the understanding that many applying for disability are not working, and the financial strain becomes overwhelming with little to no income entering the household.

PF: What was the application process like for obtaining financial assistance from Pink Fund?

MM: The application process was straightforward. I was able to contact human resources with my part-time job to submit verification to Pink Fund. I submitted my bills with ease and the application itself was easy to navigate because it is online.

PF: How has the financial assistance provided by Pink Fund helped alleviate some of the burden in your life during your treatment?

MM: The financial assistance I received from Pink Fund was a tremendous relief and a source of gratitude during my treatment. While it wasn't an immediate emergency fund where bills were paid instantly, the support came as a pleasant surprise and right on time. This assistance significantly alleviated the burden in my life, allowing me to address various financial responsibilities. With the help from Pink Fund, I could prioritize purchasing organic foods, covering transportation costs, and meeting school-related expenses for my daughter. These funds provided a sense of security and the ability to manage other necessities. The support from Pink Fund played a crucial role in lightening the financial load during a challenging period, allowing me to focus on my well-being and the well-being of my daughter.

PF: What advice would you give to other breast cancer patients currently going through similar financial struggles?

MM: I would encourage fellow breast cancer patients facing financial challenges not to lose hope. If their income has taken a hit, I recommend exploring opportunities for financial assistance, such as applying for support from Pink Fund and asking other breast cancer patients/survivors about additional organizations that provide financial assistance. While it may be challenging, openly sharing the nature of your financial struggles with others can be beneficial. Expressing your experiences verbally not only serves as a means to seek help but can also be cleansing mentally and emotionally. From a mental health perspective, discussing what you're going through can prevent emotional burden from being internalized and affecting your well-being.

PF: In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently in terms of seeking relief from financial stress during your treatment?

MM: In hindsight, if I could go back, I would have proactively applied to every organization offering financial assistance as soon as I received my breast cancer diagnosis. The unforeseen financial strain that accompanies a cancer diagnosis caught me off guard, and being better prepared would have made the journey much smoother. This realization underscores the importance of having an emergency fund in place. While acknowledging the uncertainty of the duration of a cancer journey, having an emergency fund could have served as an initial buffer while waiting for financial assistance. Although it's challenging for most individuals to maintain an emergency fund that covers an extended period, having even a modest reserve could have been beneficial. In summary, I would strongly advocate for others to begin the process of applying for financial assistance immediately upon receiving a cancer diagnosis. This proactive approach can help alleviate some of the financial stressors that may arise during treatment, offering a more stable foundation to navigate the challenges ahead.

PF: Aside from Pink Fund, are there other resources or organizations that have been helpful in supporting you financially or emotionally during your breast cancer journey?

MM: Certainly, besides Pink Fund, I've found valuable support from various resources and organizations throughout my breast cancer journey. In the Atlanta area, organizations like My Style Matters, TurningPoint Breast Cancer Rehabilitation, Atlanta CancerCare, and Pink Frog have played instrumental roles in providing financial and emotional assistance. On a national level, I've benefited from the resources offered by organizations such as Infinite Strength, Susan G. Komen, Cancer & Careers, PinkAid, and SurviveHer, among others. These organizations have been crucial pillars of support, offering a range of services that extend beyond financial assistance, and addressing the emotional aspects of the journey as well. The network of support from these organizations has been instrumental in helping me navigate the challenges of breast cancer, both practically and emotionally. Their contributions have made a significant impact on my overall well-being throughout this journey.


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