pink ribbon

The Breast Cancer Foundation of Central Florida is seeing an increase in demand for assistance from breast cancer patients, with its client base nearly doubling during the pandemic.

The non-profit organization assists breast cancer patients in active treatment with non-medical expenses such as rent, mortgage, gas, utility or car payments. Its client base has almost doubled over the last two years, jumping from assisting 55 patients in 2020 to 100 in 2021, according to its outreach director, Mandy Middleton.

“The BCFCF has seen the need for assistance increase exponentially. In 2020, we experienced almost a 400% jump in distributed client assistance and once we tally all the numbers for 2021, the numbers will be similar,” Middleton said. “Also, due to COVID-19, many women missed their mammogram screenings and because of that, doctors are seeing more progressed stages of breast cancer upon initial diagnosis.“

The Breast Cancer Foundation of Central Florida is based in Lakeland and it serves breast cancer patients living or being treated in Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Hardee, Highlands, Polk, Lake, Sumter, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Volusia, Brevard, and Indian River counties.

The household income for the applicant must be less than 400% of the national poverty level. In 2021, for a family of three, that is a household income of $87,840 or less.

The organization also provides $200 stipends to each child living in the household of a breast cancer patient to help pay for things such as school clothes or childcare and a $100 gift card around the holidays. Middleton said the number of children the non-profit has helped has also increased, from 39 in 2019 to 69 in 2020.

Funding has been challenging during the pandemic. The organization had to cancel its in-person gala in 2020.

“We had to re-imagine our main fundraiser and change gears from the annual in-person gala to a virtual month-long marathon challenge, which did affect the dollars raised.” Middleton said.

The non-profit received a $100,000 donation from the Watson Clinic Foundation last fall. It’s the third $100,000 donation the Watson Clinic Foundation has provided the Breast Cancer Foundation of Central Florida over the past three years.

“Watson Clinic Foundation generously provided $300,000 over the last three years, and we are greatly appreciative. Their generosity has enabled BCFCF to continue our mission of providing help and hope to Central Florida families impacted by breast cancer,” Middleton said.

Middleton expects the $100,000 donation to help approximately 40 families. She said the non-profit is working to find additional funding sources since its client assistance last year alone totaled over $190,000.

“We want to partner with local hospitals and health organizations to improve breast cancer screening rates by providing free screening mammograms to the uninsured and underinsured in Central Florida. Additionally, we hope to provide local breast cancer patients and survivors with emotional support through more established support groups and mentoring programs,” Middleton said.

Middleton said the goal is to create an endowment that enables the foundation to be sustainable for the future.

Leah Greiger and family
Leah Greiger , founder of Breast Cancer Foundation of Central Florida, and her family

The foundation was founded in 2017 by Leah Grieger. When she was 33 years old, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, she had two children under five years old.

“It shattered my world. The fear of what was ahead, was at times unbearable. The prayer that I received from family, friends, and church was really what helped me get strong,” said Leah Grieger.

After three surgeries in the summer of 2015, doctors told her she was cancer free. She then met with her family friend, Mary Beth O’Reily, who is also the wife of the co-founder of O’Reily Auto Parts, and learned about her Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks. Grieger decided to open a similar foundation in Central Florida. Her doctors told her the community was in desperate need of it.

“I heard stories such as women not showing up to radiation because they could not afford gas, and women denying care treatment because they had to choose between paying for treatment or keeping their electricity on or paying for their rent,” Grieger explained. “It was and still is a heartbreaking reality.”

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Stephanie Claytor has been a broadcast and digital journalist in Lakeland since 2016, covering Polk County for Bay News 9 and currently free-lancing for Jazbablog. She is an author of travel and children's books.

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