Breast Cancer Fundraising and Philanthropy

Phyllis Johnson Health Guide
  • My copy of Impact arrived last week.  Impact is a newsletter about the fund-raising events at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts.   I’m interested in what happens at Dana-Farber because I know people who work there, but I must admit that I usually just skim the contents, which are geared to announcing major gifts from rich philanthropists and fund-raisers I won’t attend because I live so far away.


    This time I actually read the stories about those six and seven figure grants.  I noticed how often the stories were about families who turned a cancer tragedy into a way to help others.  One story particularly touched me.  Jerry and Jessica Kilhefner recently gave $100,000 to research for the type of pediatric cancer that their son Wyatt has.  They call the fund the “Why Not Me?” fund.

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    Jessica Kilhefner is explains the fund’s name.  “When Wyatt was diagnosed, our first thought was ‘Why us?’  We really struggled with the situation.  Then we realized:  It’s not ‘Why me?’ It’s ‘Why not me?’  We are fortunate, educated people with financial resources and a large network of supportive friends, family, and colleagues.  If people like us who are in a position to help don’t do so, nothing is ever going to change for these kids.”


    Mick and Mary Prokopis turned their cancer experience of sitting in chemo rooms and witnessing people struggling with not only cancer, but the financial challenges that come with it, into a fund that helped more than 2,000 patients last year with money for expenses.


    Another thing I noticed is that some of the largest gifts--such as $600,000 from the V Foundation for research into the biology of  “triple negative” breast cancer, a $500,000 Komen for the Cure grant to study treatment disparities and to expand clinical trials for breast cancer, and $1.39 million from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation for research in treatment and prevention—came not from individuals, but from foundations.


    It’s easy for most of  us to say, “I don’t have enough money to make a difference.  What can I do?”  But this recent issue of Impact made an impact on me.  The biggest gifts came from the groups that raise money from ordinary people a little at a time.


    When we hear the word philanthropist, we think of a rich person who gives away money.  The word actually comes from two Greek roots that mean loving mankind.  It doesn’t take a lot of money to translate our cancer pain into help for someone else.  In fact, if you have no money, you can be a volunteer to help your local cancer support organizations.


    Cancer has a way of making people feel powerless.  What can we do in the face of such a devastating diagnosis?  Fortunately, many people find meaning in their disease by helping others.  The treatment that is helping you get well was probably made possible by a gift from someone who suffered a diagnosis similar to yours.  Can you find a way to pass this gift along to someone else?  Be a philanthropist!

Published On: June 20, 2009