It's October, which can only mean one thing: It’s time to put the girls first. Breast cancer awareness campaigns, from donor campaigns to pink ribbons to 5K races, all have one goal: to raise awareness and funds toward a cure to the disease. There are a slew of organizations doing this work. But if you’ve been compelled to give financially, how do you decide which charity to donate to? And how do you know the money you give is actually making a difference?
There are well over 1,000 breast cancer-related charities, says Sandra Miniutti, vice president of CharityNavigator.com, the nonprofit website that rates the nation’s largest charities on their financial accountability and transparency. “It’s a competitive field. You have to do your homework.”
To determine whether a charity is worthy of your contribution, check out its ranking on a site such as Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau. Then ask for specifics on what the charity does.
“Something that is unique to breast cancer charities is that donors don't take the time to understand what the charity does,” says Miniutti. “For example, they assume the charity does research when it's really about paying for services for people who can't afford them.”
There are an array of services provided by breast cancer-related charities. We know about the big ones: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and breastcancer.org, all of which received four-star rankings (the highest level) from Charity Navigator. But here are eight smaller charities working hard to fill specific needs in the breast-cancer community.
Living Beyond Breast Cancer
Mission: To provide education and support to those diagnosed with or recovering from breast cancer, as well as their families, friends and health care providers.
History: As a radiation oncologist, Marisa C. Weiss, M.D., saw a great and unmet need for breast cancer-related information and support. She founded LBBC more than 20 years ago and the organization has grown steadily ever since.
Resources available: Through its website, LBBC prides itself on providing the most up-to-date information on breast cancer as well as free webinars, newsletters and a breast cancer helpline which uses a “personalized matching service” to connect callers with women who best match their current situation.
Financial information: $3.6 million revenue; 86.3 percent goes toward program expenses.
Photo: Living Beyond Breast Cancer Event “Yoga on the Steps”
My Hope Chest
Mission: To provide breast reconstruction for uninsured and underprivileged women.
History: More than 10 years ago, Alisa Savoretti was diagnosed with breast cancer and was told she would lose a breast. As a Las Vegas showgirl, that meant not only facing surgery but the potential implications for her career. Worse, she lost her health insurance after her treatment ended and could not afford reconstruction surgery. It was two years before she could afford the procedure and once she had it done, “she saw that healing from cancer begins when one can look in the mirror and see themselves again,” says Nataly Blumberg, spokesperson for My Hope Chest. Since its founding in 2003, My Hope Chest has helped hundreds of women pay for reconstruction surgery.
Resources available: My Hope Chest negotiates discounted rates and takes in-kind contributions from health care providers and other suppliers to help cover the cost of breast reconstruction for women who otherwise can’t afford it. Patients are referred from organizations such as the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Financial information: My Hope Chest relies primarily on in-kind donations from physicians and administrative support, which totals nearly $500,000 per year, and corporate partnerships. Personal donations last year accounted for $76,000 in revenue.
Photo: founder Alisa Savoretti
Mission: Based on the belief that “every woman deserves quality breast health care,” The Rose provides access to screening, diagnosis and treatment services to women in southeast Texas regardless of their ability to pay. Texas has the highest rate of uninsured women in the country (30 percent).
History: After seeing too many women delay treatment because they were poor, lacked insurance and had children at home to care for, surgeon Dixie Melillo, M.D., and marketing pro Dorothy Weston Gibbons founded The Rose in 1986. Last year, The Rose served 32,746 women.
Resources available: Breast self-exam training, mammograms, young women’s services tailored to women 39 and under, biopsies, physician referrals and assistance with child care and transportation.
Financial information: $8.6 million total revenue; 87.5 percent goes directly toward program expenses.
Young Survival Coalition
Mission: To help women deal with the unique challenges that come with being diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age, including higher mortality rates, fertility issues and early menopause.
History: Young Survival Coalition (YSC) was founded by three women all diagnosed with breast cancer before age 35 who realized more information, support and research was needed for young women with breast cancer.
Resources available: YSC provides free resources, connections and educational material to young women diagnosed with breast cancer. The group also works to educate and influence the medical, research and legislative communities on the unique challenges of young women with breast cancer.
Financial information: $3.6 million annual revenue; 75.5 percent goes directly toward program expenses.
Photo: YSC's Tour de Pink East Coast ride
Casting for Recovery
Mission: To harness the power of nature as a healing force for breast cancer patients.
History: In 1996, a breast cancer reconstruction surgeon and an avid fly fisher started a grassroots group, Casting for Recovery, dedicated to using education, nature and fly fishing to ease women’s cancer journey. The motion required by fly fishing stretches the soft tissue and is similar to exercises recommended by doctors after surgery or radiation. The two-and-a-half-day retreats are free and held in 33 states.
Resources available: During the retreat, women fly fish by day (no prior experience necessary) and spend their evenings participating in group discussions. Discussion sessions on the physical effects of breast cancer and spiritual gatherings are also held.
Financial information: $1.2 million total revenue; 80 percent goes toward program expenses.
The Tyanna Foundation
Mission: To increase breast cancer awareness and fund research, services, education and treatment to better the lives of breast cancer patients in their own communities. There are now three local branches of The Tyanna Foundation, in southern New Jersey, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
History: When Anne O’Brien was 25 years old, she lost her mother to breast cancer. She was the oldest of five daughters, the youngest being 12 years old at the time. “She was an amazing person and did so much to help people that we knew we had to create something in her honor to reflect the type of person she was,” says O’Brien. Nine years after Tyanna Barre O’Brien’s death, in 1999, the sisters started The Tyanna Foundation.
Resources available: The Tyanna Foundation makes direct grants to local breast center or breast health organizations that are working to “help make enduring cancer somewhat better for the patient,” says O’Brien. Thanks to the foundation’s work, the imaging center at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore has been named The Tyanna O’Brien Center for Women’s Imaging at Mercy.
Financial information: The Tyanna Foundation has raised more than $1 million since its inception. Last year the Baltimore group raised $360,500 through its hallmark event, the annual “BreastFest” fundraiser.
Mission: To provide support and education to young Jewish women diagnosed with breast cancer and those at increased genetic risk for the disease.
History: When Rochelle Shoretz was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 28, she realized that young Jewish women could benefit from an organization that was sensitive to their cultural needs. Jewish women of Ashkenazi/Eastern European descent have a higher risk of carrying the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, which increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Resources available: Sharsheret offers peer support for a host of specific populations such as young parents, advanced breast cancer patients and those with recurring ovarian cancer as well as a program called “Best Face Forward,” which addresses the cosmetic impact of cancer treatment.
Financial information: $1.3 million annual revenue; 79.4 percent spent on program expenses.
Breast Cancer Fund
Mission: To prevent breast cancer from occurring at all by reducing exposure to toxins and radiation that have been linked to the disease.
History: In 1992, Andrea Martin was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. She founded Breast Cancer Fund to study the link between toxic chemicals and radiation with the disease, the goal being to prevent it from happening at all. The group has spearheaded legislation to remove toxic chemicals from food and household products, including a federal ban on phthalates, an endocrine disrupter that might play a role in cancer development, from children’s toys.
Resources available: Information on ways to reduce your risk of breast cancer by removing potentially harmful chemicals from your diet and your home. BCA also spearheads corporate campaigns that have resulted in Campbell’s Soup agreeing to phase out BPA, which has been linked to cancer, from its can liners, and Johnson & Johnson to remove certain potentially cancer-causing chemicals from its baby and adult cosmetic products.
Financial information: $3.3 annual revenue; 75.8 percent spent on program expenses.
Photo: Breast Cancer Fund’s Event “Peak Hike For Prevention”