NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — When someone is diagnosed with breast cancer, their prognosis may be good but Carol Olsen, executive director of Lee’s Friends said a lack of resources could kill them.
“They don’t have transportation to get to their radiation treatments, they don’t have transportation to get to their chemo treatments,” Olson told WAVY. “If you can’t get there, it’s kind of a death sentence.”
Lee’s Friends, a non-profit based in Norfolk, has been helping patients in the Hampton Roads area deal with the financial burden of cancer for more than 40 years.
A new study found nearly 80% of breast cancer patients in certain countries face a toxic financial strain after going through treatment, including 35% of patients from high income countries.
Cindi Willoughby turned to Lee’s Friends time and again as a nurse navigator helping breast cancer patients in need.
“I had one woman who totally was dependent on public transportation, so we were able to get her a card for the bus that she could use a month at a time,” Willoughby said.
The organization also has two cars that volunteers use to drive patients to and from doctor’s appointments, and grants to help families make ends meet because often times patients can’t work.
“You’ve gotta keep the lights on, you’ve got to have communication — phones — that’s how we all make appointments,” said Willoughby.
Requests for food assistance are also growing as inflation rises.
The number of food cards the non-profit handed out increased 100% over the last four years. In 2018, they awarded 100 grants for food support. Last year, they awarded 214 food cards.
Willoughby, who is now retired from nursing, continues to work with Lee’s Friends as a volunteer. She offers help and hope with professional knowledge, and through her personal experience as a breast cancer survivor.
“You know, I have a very wise friend and I’m like, ‘I’m just trying to figure out the purpose in all of this in my life,’ and she’s like, ‘Hmmm, maybe it’s not about you, maybe it’s about what we’re supposed to learn from you,'” Willoughby said.
She and others who’ve gone through it can offer tips, advice and a listening ear.
Everyone’s cancer journey is unique. That’s why, Olsen said, there is no limit to the services you can receive.
“We have volunteers who are happy to walk alongside you,” Olsen said, “and share the grief and the burden and the scaredness (sic) that you have with a cancer diagnosis of any type.”