Many women diagnosed with breast cancer are unable to work during their illness or treatment, adding a huge financial toll to an already difficult mental, emotional and physical struggle. From surgeries to chemotherapy appointments, some women find it exhausting just to get out of bed, let alone try to hold a job.
Yet no diagnosis will stop the bills from coming in. Rent and mortgages need to be paid. The electric bills continue. Kids need to be fed. Co-pays mount. Often companies in our area offer nothing more than unpaid leave or disability payments that amount to a fraction of a person’s regular wages.
But the diagnosis does not have to be financially devastating. There is help.
Embrace Your Sisters (EYS) is a volunteer-run charity that fills a unique niche in breast cancer services by providing short-term emergency financial assistance to people receiving treatment for breast cancer. They serve residents of Monroe, Livingston, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and Yates counties in New York.
A grant from EYS can help individuals dealing with mounting co-pays and medical expenses. This emergency funding can also help with rent/mortgages, utilities, and other necessary expenses in order to improve the quality of their lives. They want people diagnosed with breast cancer to focus on recovery, not financial stress.
EYS was originally conceived of in 2006 by five local women: Alisha Cessna, Chrisann Philipson, Lisa Cessna, Daisie Stanley, and Judy Philipson-Raffard. Chrisann found herself diagnosed with breast cancer a second time and knew her expenses were going to be enormous while fighting another battle. Her family and friends wanted to help.
It was while planning a BBQ chicken fundraiser for Chrisann, they realized if they worked on more fund-raising, they could help other women going through the same thing and EYS was born. Sadly, Chrisann lost her battle with breast cancer April 29, 2016, but her legacy lives on as the inspiration for the founding of Embrace Your Sisters.
The letters from recipients are poignant and touching:
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. About two months after I was diagnosed, the bills started coming in and I was very worried about money while fighting to survive. I learned about Embrace Your Sisters, pulled up their website and filled out an application. Within a few weeks, I had a check to help pay my mortgage for the month. If it was not for Embrace Your Sisters, I am not sure what I would have done. They came into my life at a time I really needed it and will be forever grateful.”
“Thank you so much for working with me to receive financial aid. It was a life-saver and couldn’t have come at a better time. I have been overwhelmed by the niceness of strangers. See, something good came with a difficult situation.”
“I am a single mom and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. At the time of my diagnosis I was scared not only for my life but also for preserving my daughters quality of life, as I went through surgeries and treatments that prevented me from working. Embrace Your Sisters provided me with the support to help pay my rent during my time off from work. This organization allowed me to get my treatment and keep my little girl in our house! I was able to focus on my recovery with less worry because of EYS”
“Thank you from my heart for all the kindness you have shown me. I have lost so much hearing due to chemotherapy that a hearing aid is imperative to my quality of life. Thank you again for your generosity.”
“I am a 2 time Breast Cancer Survivor. My first time around, I remember being very scared, not knowing what was going to happen and how was I going to manage things. When it came back, there was no question the treatment included major surgeries, many co-pays, and a lot more worry. A friend of mine who knew of EYS, suggested I call you…They helped and I will always be forever grateful. Whenever I can, I try to help, volunteering at events, anything I can do, to help them to help others. We need these people in our lives, especially now, in these days and times of today. Help support a wonderful local organization, it’s the least we can do….pay it forward.”
Bridget Viens has been involved with EYS since 2007, and has been on the board for 9 years. She lives in Palmyra with her husband and three daughters. She is a Speech Pathologist working with children and also owns a Christmas Tree Farm in Palmyra.
She says, “This June I was honored to be elected to the position of President for this wonderful organization. This position has given me a new prospective and appreciation of the individuals on the board, members, and volunteers.
“It is the efforts of so many incredible people that allow Embrace Your Sisters to be successful and touch so many people. There are 11 board positions comprised of all local individuals who volunteer their time and efforts to help others.”
Bridget has known many people with breast cancer at different points in her life.
“It hit closest to home when one of my best friends was diagnosed. I went to every doctor appointment and treatment with her. I witnessed her financial struggle as enormous medical bills were delivered. I watched as this disease and it’s treatments effected her body, but at the same time I saw her develop an incredible strength and determination to beat this disease. Today she is 10 years cancer free!” she exclaims proudly.
She also says EYS relies heavily on donations from the community in order to be successful. They hold two major annual fundraising events to raise money and many individuals and organizations hold fundraisers for EYS throughout the year.
“On the first Sunday in May is our annual Tea at Two Fashion Show. Guests enjoy fashions from local merchants, modeled by survivors and friends along with tea, snacks, key-note speakers, and silent auction,” Bridget said “Save the date May 6, 2018 for our next Tea at Two. Tickets go on sale on our website and the event sells out quickly. We always need donations for our silent auction so we encourage all local businesses to contact us to donate.”
On the last Sunday of September is the ‘Positively Pink in Pittsford Breast Cancer Walk.’ Walkers can walk as individuals or form teams as they walk 1.8 miles through Historic Pittsford and along the Erie Canal. Walkers get pledges from their friends, co-workers and neighbors. EYS gives out t-shirts, hats and hoodies to recognize different levels of fundraising.
“EYS has never had to turn an applicant away due to lack of funds,” Bridget says proudly. “We have money available to assist those who qualify We also have a 28-page booklet published on our website so that women can learn about the many resources in the area to assist people with breast cancer, from information on treatment centers to free food cupboards.”
“We strive to be responsible with the EYS budget,” she says. “Our operating expenses are minimal since we are a volunteer organization. Roughly 80% of the money raised is designated for financial assistance to people with breast cancer. The rest covers operational and fundraising expenses.
EYS is always looking for people who would like to become a member or volunteer. For just $20 you can become a member where you will be invited to member meetings, have the option to serve on a committee or provided the opportunity to help those faced with a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Donations can be made directly on their website (www.EmbraceYourSisters.com) and checks can be mailed in to P.O. Box 322, Canandaigua, NY, 14424. You can also like them on FaceBook.
“Whether you need assistance, know someone who does, or you want to volunteer your time or give us a financial donation, please contact us,” Bridget says. “The individuals that we help are our neighbors, friends, the people within our community. We are one big team.”