A breast cancer survivor, my road was rocky given an inaccurate initial diagnosis. Yet I was blessed — great insurance, a spectacular support system and a new husband who said he married my spirit not my boobs. While in treatment , a chance meeting with the American Cancer Society resulted in the co-creation of a call-in cable show where I interviewed cancer specialists as guests. The show ran for 13 weeks and changed my life. The unexpected magnitude of on-air response was overwhelming, and with each call came the realization viewers were using the show as their primary care physician. Overflow calls hammered it home. It became clear people felt they weren’t worthy enough to access care because they had no money or insurance. I would cry and one night my husband said, “What are you going to do about it?” From somewhere the words came: “Let’s start a foundation.” So two babes in the woods with no nonprofit experience set out on a journey beyond our wildest dreams.
In the 13 years since then, A Silver Lining Foundation has expanded from a single program to five. At the heart is Buy A Mom A Mammogram® which funds the entire spectrum of breast health testing at negotiated rates for uninsured and underinsured women and men at 15 partner hospitals. It’s uncomplicated. Someone calls, we ask very few questions, a voucher for service is issued, and the caller makes an appointment. In the program’s first year (2006), we funded screening mammograms to 95 women at one partner hospital. In 2016 we provided resource information and access to testing to almost 3,300 women and men, and these numbers continue to escalate.
We made a few decisions right in the beginning. No state or federal funding — no one was going to tell us who we could help. Certain questions — such as what are your financial resources and do you have documentation — didn’t matter. We also didn’t institute age barriers. Thus far, the youngest diagnosed through Buy A Mom A Mammogram® has been 21. Had our program not been available in all likelihood she would not have survived.
No one ever gets a bill. Given the turmoil and cost of health insurance, we have added funding for the underinsured (who can’t afford high deductibles or copays) to get testing. Why should a woman have to choose between a test and feeding her children? After Buy A Mom A Mammogram® we created Survive to Thrive, which addresses the needs of survivors. This program was developed after a call from a woman previously diagnosed whose insurance would only cover a screening mammogram and she didn’t have a breast. Next came Keep a Breast, a multimedia breast health educational program originally designed for teen girls in the hope that they would become advocates for their health and act as educational and cultural conduits in their homes and communities. The empowerment approach worked, and a related program for adult women has since been added. We go anywhere — schools, treatment centers, correctional facilities, community events, health fairs. If one life is saved through awareness, we are doing our job.
We are the mouse that roared. 5 programs with a small team and 30+ of the best volunteers anyone could ask for.
I still can’t believe that I am one of the winners of The KIND Foundation’s KIND People program; the program celebrated 7 individuals who were acknowledged as having gone above and beyond for kindness. Being selected from nearly 5,000 nominations nationwide means more than I will ever be able to express. Do I feel worthy? Not really. Am I humbled? Absolutely. Am I honored to be included amongst a group of individuals who work vigorously to level the playing field for all? Absolutely again. Will my award affect others? You better believe it. 200 women in queue for mammograms now have access. Lives eased, lives saved. I hope that others will be motivated to take action in their own lives.
Receiving the award has made me take a long look at what kindness means to me and how my life was shaped by mother’s unwavering belief in the power of empathy.
Kindness means action, participating rather than spectating. We see, we’re motivated and then come the hard questions: What can be done? How can we ease the way for someone else? My memories motivate me. Memories of conversations overheard while my parents sat at the kitchen table at the end of each month. My dad, Poppa, would write the checks and my mom, Momma, would explain what the bills were for. “Who is this person” Poppa would ask, “and why are we paying their rent?” “The girls don’t have braces, an orthodontist bill?” “We are all family,” Momma would say, “We have to help each other through the tough times.” You are the hero, my Momma. Your kindness, strength and belief in others continue to be my driving force. And I know more than anything that you and Poppa are proud. There is no better silver lining……. And, I hope others will join me in sharing in the belief that kindness can change the world.
This story was originally published here.