GAWDA members reach deep to help.
Being told that you have breast cancer is never good news, but it can be especially tragic when you can’t afford the treatment you need to survive. With unemployment on the rise, more and more people with breast cancer diagnoses face hefty medical bills without having the insurance to pay for them.
San Antonio-based WINGS (Women Involved in Nurturing, Giving and Sharing, Inc.), the 2009 recipient of GAWDA Gives Back, aims to ease that financial burden for those who cannot afford the $98,285 average cost of full treatment. Through its network of 240 physicians, labs and healthcare and related services, WINGS provides comprehensive breast cancer screening and treatment at a cost of $14,373, none of which is charged to the patient.
WINGS Takes Flight
When Terri Bronocco Jones was diagnosed with stage three inflammatory breast cancer in 1993, she was told her best option was a bone marrow transplant (an experimental treatment at the time), and her insurance company initially denied her request for coverage. “I felt as though someone had put a value on my life, and I wasn’t worth it,” says Jones. Although she was able to appeal the decision, Jones wondered what happened to those who don’t have any insurance at all. “The answer was, they die,” she says. “That was not acceptable.”
|$14,000 can save the life of someone with breast cancer. To mark ten years of GAWDA Gives Back, let’s try to save AT LEAST ten women.|
During her treatment, Jones kept a positive attitude. “I knew I wasn’t going to die because I wasn’t done yet. I knew I would be given a second chance so I could do something really great.” In the years following her treatment, Jones kept in contact with her breast surgeon, Dr. Kathryn Safford, also a breast cancer survivor. One day over lunch in 1999, the two women decided to start WINGS, giving Jones her chance to “do something really great.”
Initially, in order to qualify for the program, a patient had to be at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines and have no insurance. However, WINGS now offers tiered services so that patients slightly above 200 percent of poverty guidelines can receive partial financial assistance. Over the years, WINGS has expanded its program to include not only breast cancer treatment, but also related services, such as cardiologists for patients who experience cardiac problems after chemotherapy.
Annually, an estimated 14,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Texas. In San Antonio, one in four women diagnosed do not have adequate insurance to cover treatment costs, if they have any insurance at all. Since the inception of the WINGS program, more than 500 women have taken advantage of its services. The program has a five-year survival rate, higher than average when compared to the American College of Surgeons National Cancer Database.
Numbers alone, however, cannot express what WINGS does. One former patient described the program’s significance in a letter. “Thank you for caring so much about someone with so little in life like me,” she wrote. In letters from other patients, Jones and her team are referred to as “angels.” Whatever words they choose, the message is clear: WINGS provides necessary support for breast cancer patients. “It is a great honor that these women come to WINGS and trust us with their lives and the lives of their families,” says Jones. “I can’t tell you what it’s like to have children thank you for saving their mother.”
When Jones made her presentation to the GAWDA Gives Back committee, committee members—including GAWDA President Britt Lovin and his wife Julie—were taken aback by her passion for WINGS. The Lovins felt a personal connection with the organization. Julie’s mother is a 15-year breast cancer survivor. “Thanks to early detection through mammography and appropriate treatment, she is here today,” says Julie.
Jones was equally touched by GAWDA. “I am so impressed with this organization and its spirit of generosity,” she says. “On behalf of these women, we are so honored and so appreciative of GAWDA.”
A 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable foundation, WINGS receives no government funding. It relies on institutional grants and individual donations, 92 percent of which go directly to patient treatment and care. Because of the rising unemployment rate, WINGS has seen a 25 percent to 30 percent increase in applications in the last nine months. “The biggest challenge right now is that the economy is generating too many opportunities for me,” says Jones. As WINGS approaches its tenth anniversary in October, it’s more important than ever that it receives the financial support it deserves for remaining committed to its mission. After all, everyone deserves a lifetime.
Celebrate 10 Years of Giving
Let’s make this year’s GAWDA Gives Back donation our biggest yet! Visit www.gawda.org to contribute.