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  • October 23, 2023 8 min read

    Molly MacDonald’s Magnificent Pink Fund

    If you go through a medical emergency or an illness that requires a long treatment plan, it’s not only the pain and stress of the physical issue that’s problematic: It’s also the financial damage and strain of not being able to work or function normally that can wreak havoc on life. Molly MacDonald, founder of the Pink Fund (pinkfund.org) experienced this exact trauma when diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. Not only did she have to deal with the five months of treatment, but since she was transitioning between jobs, her financial security was truly at risk. 

    After her own harrowing experience, she didn’t want others to face the same issues, so she founded the incredible Pink Fund (pinkfund.org). Through the Pink Fund, the Beverly Hill, MI, resident has helped countless people deal with the vortex of issues patients face. Below, the Beverly Hill, MI, resident shares more about her own journey, helping others and how the network of help has blossomed. 

    SBS: What was your path professionally?

    Molly MacDonald: I hold a degree in journalism from the University of Michigan.  My first professional role was as the sole reporter for a weekly newspaper in Michigan called ‘The Chelsea Standard.’ Within a year I was offered a job in the promotion department at the ‘Detroit Free Press.’ My claim to fame there was as one of the four founders of the Detroit Free Press Marathon. For a year I worked for a prestigious Detroit PR firm, got married, and then for two years, I was a speechwriter for the CEO of an esteemed ad agency (the agency after which Mad Men was patterned). I knew nothing about running a non-profit, but I simply believed I could.  To quote Henry Ford, ‘Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.’ Despite all the evidence that I could not, I believed I could, and that belief fueled me.

     

    SBS: What was your own journey with breast cancer? 

    MMD: I was diagnosed with breast cancer on April 1st, 2005. I was transitioning between jobs at the time of my diagnosis. I was no longer the best candidate for the position. While my early stage disease was unlikely to take my life, it took my livelihood while I underwent five months of treatment.

     

    SBS: What was most helpful to you during that journey? What were your biggest challenges?

    MMD: Without any income, and the addition of a $1300/month COBRA premium, I experienced financial toxicity eight years before Dr. Yousuf Zafar and Dr. Amy Abernethy coined the term.  

    I was divorced from my children’s father, who was not paying child support. I had no savings and was ineligible for Medicaid, which at the time was predicated on my previous years income. I was also remarried, but my husband was self-employed in the piano business, providing concert pianos for the concert stage. So without a steady income, we struggled financially. And at one point when our home fell into foreclosure, we faced the very real possibility of facing homelessness.  

    Fortunately, my mother rescued our home. At the end of treatment, I stood in line in the basement of a church food pantry to help feed my family. It was a very, very challenging time, and that is what led to founding Pink Fund with my husband.

     

    SBS: How did the Pink Fund come about? 

    MMD: While sitting in treatment waiting rooms, I met other working women like me. They, too, were worried about the cost of treatment coupled with lost income. Many of them had longer and more toxic treatment protocols, and they were worried that their FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) benefits would run out before they completed treatment. They were seriously considering stopping treatment and returning to work.

    They were also considering liquidating their retirement funds, selling their homes, and pulling their kids home from college. When I asked the hospital social worker if there was any financial relief for this situation, she offered me a $50 Kroger gift card. I went home and told my newish husband we needed to do something about it. He thought that not only had I lost my breast, I had also now lost my mind. But because he sleeps with me, he went along with it.  

    We traded an Eero Saarinen tulip table to a graphic designer for our heart and ribbon logo, we got a website donated, and the medical writer at the ‘Detroit Free Press,’ where I had once been an executive, wrote a front-page story in section B, published October 2, 2006.

    Pink Fund alleviates the financial burdens of breast cancer patients in active treatment by providing a bridge between hardship and recovery via direct non-medical financial assistance, patient advocacy and education. Our financial bridge programs meet patients’ critical expenses for housing, transportation, utilities and insurance, improving treatment adherence and survivorship outcomes.

     

    SBS: How has the Pink Fund evolved? 

    MMD: Pink Fund has grown from being Michigan-based and only serving Michigan patients, to Michigan-based, but serving breast cancer patients and their families nationwide. We went from an all-volunteer organization in 2012 to a staff of 10 with four contractors in 2023.   

    Our program, which makes between 90 and 180 days of bill payments for patients in active treatment, pays their non-medical bills directly to creditors for housing, transportation, utilities and insurance.We have added education on what to financially consider when just diagnosed.

     

    SBS: What are some aspects of the Pink Fund that might be surprising to find out?

    MMD: What sets Pink Fund apart from other breast cancer charities is its unwavering commitment to providing assistance to those in need. Unlike organizations with open and closed funding cycles, Pink Fund ensures that all applicants who meet qualifying criteria and provide complete documentation receive some measure of support. While rare instances may disqualify a patient, Pink Fund’s dedication to helping those in financial distress is steadfast.

    Patients and their families may benefit for up to 90 days of support while in active treatment.  Patients in treatment for metastatic disease, on the mandatory wait period, where they cannot show any working income for five months, may receive up to six months of support.  

    We serve a diverse population of patients from urban, suburban and rural communities.  Our Community Outreach Coordinator works with hospital social workers and patient navigators to educate them on us as a resource, and additionally reaches out to provide education to various under-supported groups.

     

    SBS: What do you think might be helpful, on a systematic level, in terms of assisting those with dire medical needs without enough financing to cover it?

    MMD: When I was in treatment, I negotiated my deductible by making a payment plan. It took me three years to pay off my debt. Patients need to ask to speak to a financial navigator in the setting where they are receiving treatment. If a navigator is not available, ask to speak with a social worker.  There are several co-pay assistance programs for oral medications like the Patient Access Network Foundation, Patient Advocate Foundation, NeedyMeds, HealthWell Foundation and more. Additionally, many pharmaceutical companies have patient assistance programs for people who meet income guidelines.  

    Having cancer, getting treatment and dealing with the cost of care can be a full-time job.  When someone asks how they can help, one way is to ask them to research organizations that can help with medical debt. DollarFor.org is a great nonprofit that can wipe away medical debit, if the patient meets income guidelines and is being treated at a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). In the breast cancer space there are three other national organizations that may be able to help: Komen.org (https://www.komen.org/financial-assistance-program),  Living Beyond Breast Cancer https://www.lbbc.org/financial-assistance or Cancer Care  https://www.cancercare.org/financial_assistance

     

    SBS: What are some practices and approaches you found helpful that might be helpful to others?

    MMD: Ask for help early and often. When people ask ‘How can they help?,’ be specific about what you need and want. Also, when people start saying things that are frightening or negative, tell them you are only focusing on the positive. Lots of people will offer unwanted advice.  Thank them, and then decide if that is helpful or not. People want to help, but sometimes you may not want help. And it is okay to say ‘Thanks so much for caring about me, I will reach out when I need help.’  

     

    SBS: What has changed about your approach to health, wellness, and work during your journey?

    MMD: Following treatment, I had to cobble together lots of jobs to make a living, and that was hard. I am vigilant about taking care of my health, exercising daily, though I give myself permission to take Sundays off, provided I have not missed the previous six days.

     

    SBS: What self-care practices have been most helpful along your journey? 

    MMD: Yoga, walking and swimming laps.

     

    SBS: What have been some challenges, as well as happy surprises, along your journey?

    MMD: The first significant challenge was when I initially founded another organization with the same mission as Pink Fund under a different name, only to have it taken over by individuals I trusted. Within a month, my husband and I rebooted as Pink Fund. Fortunately, they did not take my logo.

    The happiest surprise was when Ford Motor Company invited Pink Fund to be part of their Warriors in Pink program in 2012 and launched a national ad campaign on our behalf. It was called Time to Fight, and we are in the twelfth year of that partnership.I made vision boards, and I put Ford on it in 2007. 

     

    SBS: What are the most helpful things others can do (or avoid doing) for loved ones dealing with a similar issue?

    MMD: I have decided that while cancer affects the entire family, and some friends, the patient needs to be in charge of their health decisions. Afterall, the majority of the consequences, upon which those decisions are made, the patient must live with. I have seen many families try to interfere with patients’ treatment decisions or encourage them to ‘keep fighting,’ when it is clear that they are out of options and need to enter into palliative care or hospice.

     

    The best, zaniest part of being Molly: Being disruptive (in a good way)! While being diplomatic has its time and place, and it can be effective, I am much more a disruptor than diplomat. And I think that harkens back to my journalistic training in telling stories and uncovering the truth. Reporters can be diplomats in that they will play that role to get the story, but the story is most often a disruptive one, particularly in investigative reporting.

     

    Molly’s SBS Mantra: Be Fearless, although I am terrified of so many things, like heights, speed, swimming in open water, and fast cars. But when it comes to the work, I am privileged to perform for Pink Fund: I am fearless. Afterall, the worst thing that can happen is that you get a no. And those ‘no’s,’ in my mind, are simply, ‘Not yets.’

     

    Molly’s Michigan Faves:

    Healthy Restaurant: Molly’s…my house! I cook healthy meals.
    Splurge Restaurant: The burger and fries at Café ML.
    Nightlife Spot: A nice craft cocktail in a boutique hotel in some fancy place.
    Yoga Studio: I used to go to Lifetime Fitness, now I practice at home. I do love Community Yoga Studio in Birmingham, owned coincidentally by Missy Rush, who was the one to invite Pink Fund into Ford’s Warriors in Pink program in 2012.
    Fitness Studio: My family room overlooking my garden.  
    Fun Activity: I like to perform my ‘circus’ workout on my feet-up device. 
    Calming Activity: Yoga and breathwork
    Online Resources: The Hidden Brain podcast and fashion Instagram accounts for women over 50
    Books: I love anything by Anne LaMott, including Operating Instructions, Traveling Mercies, Bird by Bird, Help, Thanks, Wow and Small Victories. A real eye opener for me in the last year was the book The Other Dr. Gilmer by Benjamin Gilmer. 

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