Tacoma’s Breast Cancer Resource Center is broke.
The doors are closed, its three employees on furlough.
Now executive director Janie Cunningham and colleagues Sarah Jones and Marti Curtis are following the advice they give to cancer patients: Fight it. Get your friends to fight it. Get your Facebook friends fighting, too.
The neon cherry sundae of an office at 3502 S. 12th St. is pink over pink in plastic pumpkins, arty rain boots, boas, bejeweled bras and Mardi Gras beads. It thumbs its hot-pink nose at cancer and celebrates tatas and boobies and knockers.
It’s a place to say anything, to learn to advocate for your own medical care, and to listen. It has shelves of books, wigs, prostheses, camisoles, hats and bathing suits to be taken as gifts or loans. It is home base for exercise, classes and support groups.
It is the place where women who are 34 or younger, low-income and have breast cancer symptoms can get a voucher for a diagnostic mammogram, which involves twice the images of a screening mammogram. Women 35 and older are covered at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. Other programs, funded in part by Susan G. Komen for the Cure, focus on screenings for women 40 to 64.
The Tacoma resource center has a good relationship with the Carol Milgard Breast Health Center and spends $130, about cost, on each voucher for younger women.
“Last year, we gave out 12 to 13 a month,” Cunningham said.
That alone cost between $1,560 and $1,690 of the center’s $20,000 monthly budget. The rest of it went to educational materials, all those wigs and faux-boobs, wages for the two full-time and one part-time employees, travel costs for countywide outreach programs, information packets, classes and $3,000 in rent.
From the center’s opening in 1998 to 2009, Komen money was the base on which it built the rest of its $240,000 annual budget. There also were fundraisers as well as donations from foundations, corporations, individuals and governments.
In 2009, Komen gave $110,000.
The next year, with Komen’s new focus on getting free screening mammograms to women between 40 and 65, it gave nothing.
Cunningham sees irony in the loss of Komen money. The new focus disqualified the diagnostic mammograms for young women who have symptoms such as lumps, rashes, discharge or pain in their breasts.
Susan G. Komen would have fallen into that group. She was 33 when her cancer was diagnosed, and 36 when she died in 1980.
In April, Breast Cancer Resource Center’s board shut the doors to give Cunningham a chance to rebuild its finances.
Charging women for services is off the table.
“The reason our services are free to anyone is not simply because there are people out there who can’t afford to pay for a $300 prosthesis or an $85 bra,” Cunningham said.
A cancer fight is a draining journey through claims, co-pays and arguments over items that insurance doesn’t cover.
“We’re not a medical facility. We don’t take insurance,” Cunningham said. “We’re a reprieve from all that. That’s the way it should be.”
To preserve that reprieve, Cunningham is turning to people, not grants, for a steady base of donations.
The center has added a “Donate Here” button to its website, www.bcrcwa.org, with an option to become a sustaining donor with an automatic monthly donation. A thousand people pledging $20 every month could raise the $20,000 a month to keep the center open.
“That’s what we need, lots of people making small monthly donations,” she said.
She’s writing to the thousands of people who have used the center, and to doctors who referred their patients to it, asking them to become the base on which to build all other fundraising.
To jazz up that “all other fundraising” column, henna artist Dagmar Peterson jumped to the rescue on Facebook. A whirl of ideas and contacts, Peterson is planning a concert, a garage sale, an auction, a pageant, sparkly pink donations on business counters, and donation drives at summer festivals. She’s looking for a car to raffle.
These women are fighters. Let’s hope they can bounce back from being broke. Better yet, let’s help firstname.lastname@example.org