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Cancer is a brutal disease, not only physically but also financially. Eleven percent of all cancer patients cannot afford food and basic necessities due to treatment costs, and nearly one in four people with cancer will exhaust all savings as a result of treatment costs. This includes those with insurance.

While cancer affects men and women of every age, race, ethnic background, and economic class, there is no question that the disease disproportionately impacts minority communities. As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cancer death rates for men and women are highest among African Americans, followed by whites, Latinos, and Asians/Pacific Islanders.  African American women also have the highest breast cancer death rates of all racial and ethnic groups and are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women.

In addition to cancer’s brutal effect on the individual, cancer in women has a great ripple effect on the family given the many critical roles women play including breadwinner, parent, and caregiver. A healthy, working woman can often be the only thing keeping food on the table for her child, making sure the heating bill is paid for the family, and checking that Grandpa gets his medications on time – especially in households where people are already living paycheck to paycheck. 

People like Lea from Daly City, California struggle every week in America. Like Leah, most work hourly-wage jobs that do not provide health insurance or paid medical leave or are under-insured for the cost of the full scope of breast cancer care. Others lose access to employer-provided health benefits when they miss work due to illness and soon juggle medical bills along with rent, electricity and the cost of raising a family. Mothers will also prioritize providing for their children, often at the expense of their own self-care and timely medical treatment.

In 1987, Congress designated the third week of April as National Minority Cancer Awareness Week. As explained in the Congressional Record, this resolution was intended to draw attention to “an unfortunate, but extremely important fact about cancer.” We’ve come a long way since the 80s, but this awareness week was another important reminder of how crucial it is that we continue to promote increased awareness of prevention and treatment among those segments of the population that are at greater risk of developing – and dying from – cancer.

Equally important to raising awareness about health care disparities is getting the word out about what we can do to help patients now to provide them with immediate comfort and relief in the most trying of times.

Organizations like the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund (BCEF) and Giving Comfort work together to help ensure no one faces cancer alone.  BCEF provides emergency financial assistance to low-income individuals battling breast cancer, reducing economic barriers to treatment and enabling clients to focus on medical care rather than the financial stress of cancer.  Since 2001, BCEF has provided over $2.5 million to help more than 2,500 low-income breast cancer patients in Northern California. Each year, BCEF is a vital safety net to more than 400 women and their families. Giving Comfort provides these patients with Comfort Kits – care packages of the most needed and requested items to help soothe discomfort while going through chemotherapy treatment. The Giving Comfort program is at work in 33 states.

No one diagnosed with cancer should be forced to choose between accessing life-extending medical care and providing for their families. We must do our part to help ensure no one faces breast cancer, or any other cancer, alone. This April, turn awareness into action. By providing assistance and compassion where it is needed, we can help reduce mortality rates, improve access to cancer care and maintain basic needs without worries of financial ruin. 


The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of MomsRising.org

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