Here at White + Warren, we are committed to not only raising awareness (and funds) for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but we want to support and highlight survivors, as well. This October, we're talking to Molly MacDonald, who is not only a survivor but the Founder and Executive Director of The Pink Fund, an organization that financially supports breast cancer patients in active treatment with meeting the basic needs of paying for housing, transportation, utilities and insurance.
The 67-year-old mother of five (and grandmother of two!) describes herself as someone who is "passionate, tenacious, driven and dreams big!" She loves what she does and points to a quote from Winston Churchill to describe her attitude, " We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give." We are thrilled to be giving back as well this October by donating 20% of the proceeds from items marked with the pink ribbon icon from our Cashmere for a Cure Collection to Susan G. Komen Greater NYC. Please read on to learn more about Molly and her inspiring personal journey.
Q: How and when did you first discover you had breast cancer?
A: I went in for my annual mammogram without a single concern. I had years of clear mammograms, and no family history. The films showed scattered specs, which turned out to be DCIS, or ductal carcinoma insitu. It is essentially pre-cancer in the milk ducts, and if left untreated, can form a tumor. I was in NYC on business on Friday, April 1, 2005 when I received the call from my OB/GYN. She had delivered all five of my children and was now delivering some very different news, which for 40,000 women a year in this country is a death sentence. I had early stage breast cancer and would need surgery and treatment.
Q: What did friends or family members do or say during treatment that meant the most to you?
A: I really enjoyed receiving cards. Some were even sent by strangers. Meal delivery while undergoing radiation was great as well (although I must say we did tire of lasagna). One thing I learned about disclosing a cancer diagnosis is that some friends and family will rally around you and others will pull away. This can be confusing and hurtful until one realizes those who pull away are frightened and simply do not want to face reality. I believe that is because they are afraid you might die, or it could happen to them. My children were aged 11-20 at the time of my diagnosis. They held it together, but I have learned in recent years just how terrified they were I might die. I had divorced their father five years earlier. He was unreliable in every way, shape and form, so the thought of losing me was very frightening. Additionally, their life experience with cancer from the parents of their friends, six of whom were diagnosed with cancer in the previous six years and all of whom died, was that cancer was a certain death sentence.
Q. What advice do you have for anyone who has recently been diagnosed?
Call in the favors. When people ask, as they will, “Let me know what I can do to help?” hand them a list and be specific.
• Will you do my laundry?
• Can you drive me to and from treatment?
• Would you take little Kayden and Ammabelle Saturday afternoon from 1-4 p.m. so I can rest?
• If I give you a grocery list and cash, would you be so kind as to shop for me when you shop for your family?
The beauty in this is that when you recover you will have an opportunity to repay the favor.
Q: How would you explain The Pink Fund?
A: While fighting for their lives, many patients in active treatment lose their livelihoods, experiencing a loss of income that often leads to catastrophic financial losses and the need to rebuild financial health. The Pink Fund provides financial support which helps meet basic needs, decrease stress levels, and allows breast cancer patients to focus on healing which improves survivorship. The 90-day program covers expenses for housing, transportation, utilities and insurance. Since we started we have paid out $2.9 million.
In a recent nationwide survey we launched at the Pink Fund, we learned that 41% of breast cancer patients skipped treatment due to costs of care and lost income and 36% could not return to their employer after treatment.
Q: What inspired you to start The Pink Fund?
A: My early stage disease was unlikely to take my life, but it took my livelihood while I underwent treatment. Sitting in treatment waiting rooms I met other women like myself experiencing this same side effect known as “financial toxicity”. My “aha” moment was that even if I couldn’t get help for me, perhaps I was the one to Give Help.
My proudest moment since starting it has been when in 2012 Ford Motor Company invited The Pink Fund to become one of their charity partners through their Warriors in Pink program. Powered by Ford, we were able to become a national organization providing support and more good days to patients in treatment in all 50 states.
Q: How do you stay positive?
A: Exercise. My current regimen is to swim a mile Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. Lift weights on Tuesdays and Thursdays and practice yoga on the weekends. My faith also keeps me strong. I know God has given me this opportunity to help others and I am grateful.
I choose a phrase every year that becomes my mantra. In 2016 it was “Be unstoppable.” In 2017 it was “Be so good, they can’t ignore you.” This year it's a line from poet Mary Oliver, “Tell me what is it you will do with this one wild and precious life you’ve been given.” As far as I know we do not, like cats, have nine lives. So, I want to use mine for good. I am inspired by the thousands of women living with Stage IV Metastatic breast cancer. These women will be in treatment the rest of their lives and short of being hit by the proverbial bus, will die from this disease. One of them is Heidi Floyd. Every day these women must push away the thought that they are living while dying or dying while living. One of them said to me, “Everybody dies, but not everybody lives.”