She Thought She Could …

Our Stories, Survivor April 19, 2017

Molly MacDonald
Detroit, MI
DCIS Breast Cancer, 12 year survivor
Founder, The Pink Fund

In the summer of 2005, foreclosure notices and threats of utility shut-offs and late payment notices took up most of the space in our mailbox, next to colorful envelopes filled with “Get Well” wishes. That previous April 1, I had received a “no fooling” breast cancer diagnosis.

My diagnosis came at a time of job transition. I had quit one job to be part of a start-up, never suspecting my annual mammogram would cast shadows of cancer.

Although my early stage disease would not take my life, it took my livelihood while I underwent surgeries and radiation. Without my income and the addition of a hefty COBRA premium close to $1300, our family went into financial free-fall.

The very real possibility that we might lose our home and end up in a shelter left me in a state of sheer panic, thinking thoughts like, “My children would be better off if I died from this disease and could benefit from my term life insurance policy.”

Twelve years later, I wonder what I could have done to change the outcome of that time. If I had had a way to financially survive, would I have started what has turned out to be a very successful 2nd Act, blessing close to two thousand survivors and their families with more than two million dollars and up to 90 days of non-medical financial assistance through The Pink Fund? Probably not.

That summer, as I sought some financial relief to help pay a few non-medical bills, my social worker informed me that there was little to no help for someone like me, someone whose previous year’s income (on which state aid and Medicaid was based at the time) put me out of the running for public assistance. Additionally, my quests for help fell into the third quarter of the calendar year, when funds for many relief program coffers were empty.

As I sat in the treatment waiting rooms, I met many other working women like myself. These women suffered side effects that prevented them from doing their jobs, and therefore collecting a paycheck. As we shared our stories, it became evident that the loss of income while in treatment was a real problem not being addressed. That problem fell between what I refer to as the bookends of the disease. From education, awareness and early detection to the ultimate research for a cure to end breast cancer forever, breast cancer patients in active treatment were suffering from financial toxicity – the emotional, mental, and physically debilitating, and often life threatening, financial side effects induced by cancer treatment.

When I could not Get Help, it became my mission to Give Help. I decided someone had to do something about this very real problem. So why not me? I traded a Saarinen designed dining table for our heart and ribbon log, and spent $50 on a book called How To Form A Non-Profit Corporation. My “dot the i’s and cross the t’s” husband was the perfect compliment to my grand vision to provide Real Help Now to women in treatment nationwide.

I created a vision board, pasting all kinds of photos and company logos on it, creating a collage of my dreams for the organization.

The Ford Blue Oval was at the center. I knew Ford Motor Company had committed millions of dollars to Susan G. Komen in their quest for a cure.

Fast forward to the spring of 2012. Ford Motor Company came calling, inviting The Pink Fund to be one of their charity partners, and launching us from a Michigan-based charity providing help to Michigan survivors only to a national charity.

That same year, I brought a celebrity partnership to Ford. The sister-in-law of actor James Denton – who played Mike the Plumber in “Desperate Housewives” – had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was an RN and unable to work while in treatment. Denton and his wife Erin, learned of The Pink Fund through a mutual friend and reached out to help.

We learned that his mother, a working widow at the time she felt a lump, made the decision to forego treatment having witnessed the toxic side effects her own mother had endured while in treatment for lung cancer in the 70’s. By the time James and his siblings learned of their mother’s illness she was in end stage disease, and the best they could do was keep her comfortable.

James offered his support, and Ford launched a full blown ad campaign, designing a special “Pink Fund Time to Fight” tee-shirt; placing full page full color, full run of press ads in People, Us, INStyle and Ladies Home Journal; launching the promotion on “The Talk” in LA and “The Today Show” in New York.

Powered by Ford’s extraordinary support we were able to Go Further, from helping 40 women in 2012 to 248 in 2013!

In just ten years the organization I began at my kitchen table has become a respected national player in the breast cancer space for our patient centric program.

More importantly we have provided Help and Hope to women and men in treatment, and inspired others to consider ways in which they too can launch 2nd Acts.

While we are planning for The Pink Fund’s future, I am looking forward to writing a memoir and a couple of screenplays.

My vision board is grander than ever with some pretty outlandish goals, like winning an Oscar for best original screenplay, being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for my work with The Pink Fund, and spending vacation time with those I love.

For me, that summer of my despair became the summer of my determination, because I believed I could make a difference in the lives of others.

Have you ever seen that greeting card with a little girl on the front, standing tall, legs splayed open hands on her hips that reads, “She thought she could so she did.”

As a Michigander, I claimed this quote from Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can or your can’t, you’re right.” I thought I could and I did, and you can too.