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March 28, 2016

The annual Pink Party at Clift is celebrating its 10th anniversary on April 7, 2016 in Redwood Room at Clift San Francisco in Union Square. This event directly benefits the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, whose mission is to provide emergency funds to women in need who are battling breast cancer. This past fiscal year, BCEF served 145 people in San Francisco, just fewer than 60 people in San Mateo County, and 110 people in Santa Clara for a total of around 315 clients. BCEF is currently in its 15th year of service and they've given over $3 million in client assistance grants. Karen Edwards, the Vice Chair for the Board of Directors for the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, gave us more information on BCEF and the Pink Party.

Photo Credit: Alanna Hale

What are some common misconceptions about breast cancer?
I think that the most common one is that men cannot develop breast cancer. It is true that according to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is about 100 times more common in women than in men but men can develop it. It is a lot more rare though as being a woman is the main risk factor for developing breast cancer. That said, we have served both men and women but most of our clients are women. I think the latest statistic that the ACS put out is about 12% so that means every one in 8 women will develop breast cancer at some time in their life.

How much does an average treatment cost?
I hate to say it depends but it really does because everybody’s treatment, diagnosis, treatment options, and their healthcare coverage vary widely. I will say regardless of insurance, the fight to get rid of breast cancer is quite extensive and expensive. From that perspective, we envision at some point a health care environment where one day everybody will have access to the best healthcare available regardless of their ability to pay and within a continuum of a care safety net that eradicates fear of financial ruin towards fighting this cancer.

Insurance coverage varies widely. Many people who have breast cancer have inadequate insurance coverage. For example even with the Affordable Care Act, many people who are working will choose a plan that has a high deductible and will end up with a lot of out-of-pocket expenses that they hadn’t anticipated. In addition, most people aren’t able to work throughout their treatment, which adds a huge financial toll to the already difficult struggle.

How does BCEF factor in?
BCEF is part of a network of over 40 community partners. We are based in the Bay Area. We get referrals from medical facilities, Bay Area hospitals, community based organizations, and also word of mouth. From a service model standpoint, we are quick and compassionate. We cover emergency financial needs such as housing and utility bills (so their lights, etc. don’t go off during their treatment). We issue the payment within five days of receiving a client-completed application (it’s usually between 1-3 days) so we’re very fast about it. We’ve never denied a qualified applicant nor have we created a waitlist for assistance/our services.

Photo Credit: Joseph Driste

How does one qualify for benefits?
You have to meet a couple of criteria, which is pretty simple from that perspective. We are a Bay Area based organization so you need to be residing in one of three counties: San Francisco, San Mateo or Santa Clara county. You have to also be in current treatment for breast cancer. What is usually defined as “current” is you’re going through chemotherapy, radiation, and/or you’ve had surgery within the last 6 months. Another qualification is you’re living with metastatic breast cancer. The third criteria is that you have a current net individual monthly income of $2000 or less or your household income is within 200% of the federal poverty guideline. We serve a very specific population that is the most in need.

Could you tell us more about the Pink Party?
I love the Pink Party! A former General Manager of Clift, who was also on the board of BCEF and who has been a phenomenal supporter over the years, started it. It’s been going strong – this is our 10th year. We’ve got philanthropists, the movers & shakers in the tech community, socialites, breast cancer survivors who share their stories, and more who attend. We’ve got a raffle with some great prizes including gifts and certificates from Urban Putt, Terrapin Crossroads, and Nob Hill Spa along with wonderful restaurants like Delfina and Dandelion Chocolates. Our generous community of supporters is fantastic – we love them.

Do you have a specific fundraising goal for the Pink Party?
We do. This is our 10th year and we’re hoping to raise $10,000. The last couple of years we’ve come extremely close but we haven’t been able to get over that hump and we’re really hoping we can make that happen this year. We’re probably going to have about 200 attendees. We’ve got live music and DJ ShOOey from Space Cowboys will be DJing. 100% of the proceeds from the pink drinks we’ll be serving and the raffle sale will benefit our low-income women who are battling breast cancer. All of that money is going directly to our clients in need.


Photo Credit: Joseph Driste

What’s the status of breast cancer today?
We’ve done some comparisons on studies from the clients we see so I can chalk up to what we see… because we serve these three counties, we’ve seen as we move down from San Francisco south to San Mateo and then further south, the clients we see are getting younger, sicker, and poorer. That is the disturbing trend for us and we see that as the greatest need for us. 100% of our clients are low-income. 80% of them are women of color. 70% of them are immigrants. Over 50% of them are isolated from a linguistics standpoint meaning they don’t speak English or have difficulty speaking English. These people are single heads of households. They’ve got one or two jobs. They’ve got at least one or dependents and are caregivers to elderly. They’re working hourly wage jobs or are in contract situations that don’t provide health insurance or paid medical leave or they may lose access to employer provided benefits if they have to miss their work because of treatment. So they’re juggling a lot of uninsured medical expenses and in the Bay Area that can mean financial disaster.

Do you think the cost of living in the Bay Area is driving that number too?
Possibly. This is a high cost area, as most people know, it’s one of the most expensive places to live. That said, the cost of medical expenses is going up as well. So really the net effect is people falling through the cracks because they are unable to handle the expenses of these life-threatening illnesses. Whether they’re not covered at all or under insured, we’re really trying to help make sure these people don’t fall through the cracks in the system. 

How can someone help the cause?
They can do a couple of things. Obviously one can show up at the Pink Party at Clift. If you can’t come, you can go to BCEF.org -- we accept donations via check, cash and credit card. If you are donating via credit card, you can go online and click the Donate Now button and that would be fantastic! We would love to help even more clients than last year.

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