Two months before her annual mammogram, Charmaine Tyson noticed changes in her breast: extreme sensitivity, a strange heat, and eventually a dimpling. So she got a mammogram, taking her mother with her for support.
“I thought maybe I got infected with something,” she says. But after the mammogram, the technician told the 42-year-old to stay put for an ultrasound. That led to a biopsy. Meanwhile, her mother sat in the waiting room, wondering why her daughter was taking so long. One by one, other patients came out carrying pink slips indicating they had the all-clear.
Tyson wasn’t so lucky. She had stage 4 invasive ductal carcinoma, which had spread to her liver. And her tumor was triple positive, meaning her cancer was aggressive, growing in response to estrogen, progesterone, and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2.
And there was another complication: Tyson was just five days from qualifying for health insurance at her new job.
A breast cancer foundation that covers the everyday bills
Go Jen Go offers financial help for breast cancer patients like Tyson. The nonprofit offers grants to women and men with breast cancer in and around Charlotte, North Carolina, covering expenses like groceries and utilities. “We offer financial assistance so patients can focus on their fight, not worry whether they can pay rent, put gas in their car to get to treatments, or buy gifts for their families at Christmas,” says Susan Sears, executive director of Go Jen Go.
Patients can focus on their fight, not worry whether they can pay rent.
The charity began in 2007 when Charlotte resident Jen Pagani was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer after the birth of her second son. She was amazed at how much support she got from friends and family. “The meal train was filled every day and they had copious amounts of food. And then there were the gift cards,” says Sears. While Pagani received treatment, she talked to other cancer patients and recognized they weren’t all as fortunate. And that’s how Go Jen Go began.
“She started passing out her gift cards to other survivors right in the treatment room,” says Sears. Pagani vowed to continue providing financial help for breast cancer patients.
The foundation officially opened its doors in 2009. Pagani succumbed to her cancer in 2014, but Go Jen Go lives on, providing nearly $135,000 a year in financial support, concentrating on costs like rent, food, and utilities. If grantees need help with other costs, like medical bills, Go Jen Go can direct them to another resource.
A blessing not once, but twice
About 60% of Go Jen Go’s applicants come from referrals. Buddy Kemp Cancer Support Center referred Charmaine Tyson to Go Jen Go when her journey began in 2013. She received $300 each month, for three months, to cover her bills. “That helped me a lot until I was able to get the [health] coverage that I needed,” says Tyson. “I was so blessed; I didn’t know those programs even existed. Go Jen Go has been a blessing to me, not only that first time but even more recently in 2021.”
Three years after her original diagnosis, Tyson had a routine PET scan, where doctors found a stage 0 cancerous lymph node under her collarbone. This led to four more rounds of chemo. Once treatment was complete, Tyson was declared cancer-free for the second time. But then a routine scan in 2021 uncovered a cancerous spot on her brain, and she returned to Go Jen Go. “They were able to bless me again with $400 a month,” says Tyson.
Sears sees many return patients and recognized Tyson’s name when her application came in on Sept. 30, 2021. And while it was unfortunate that Tyson had to return to Go Jen Go for help, her timing couldn’t have been better.
Truist covered all of Go Jen Go’s grants in October 2021, as part of the Taste of Charlotte Pink Cupcake Run/Walk & Breast Cancer Lap held at Truist Field. The fundraiser was organized through Taste of Charlotte, WBTV, and Truist Field.
“[Truist] is a longtime friend of Go Jen Go,” says Sears. “They saw it made perfect sense to be at Truist Field, giving back to the community with care and compassion.” Go Jen Go was named beneficiary of the fundraiser, and Truist donated $10,000 in financial help for breast cancer patients. Altogether, the organization received nearly $40,000.
In 2022, Truist is increasing their commitment to Go Jen Go as the presenting sponsor of the event. And once again, Truist is donating $10,000 to cover Go Jen Go’s October grants.
At the Pink Cupcake Run/Walk in 2021, each of the 1,375 participants walked around Truist Field four times. After each lap, one of four local bakeries provided each walker with a cupcake. “Then we had a special moment for the survivors and thrivers. Thrivers are the individuals that are metastatic breast cancer patients, living with stage 4. All of the survivors and thrivers did one loop around. It was just amazing,” says Sears.
Sears cried when she first learned Truist would cover all of Go Jen Go’s grants October. “This is a huge amount for us,” she says. “To know we have a month covered for the 45 individuals that we supported in October is life-changing for our organization. It allows us to stay steady and cover everyone who applies for financial assistance.”
Sears cried when she learned Truist would cover all of Go Jen Go’s grants for the month.
Tyson was one of those 45 individuals. “Their assistance was one less worry that I didn’t have, on top of me being diagnosed with the brain tumor,” says Tyson.
Today, Tyson is doing well. “By the grace of God, I had support from my colleagues, from Go Jen Go, and from family and friends.” Her doctor recently gave her another clean bill of health. “I’m a stage 4 metastatic breast cancer survivor with no evidence of the disease in my body,” she says.
Pink cupcakes mean more financial help for breast cancer patients
Sears has big plans for Go Jen Go: Publicity from the Pink Cupcake Run/Walk has her focusing on increasing funding because the awareness has brought an influx of applicants to the foundation. She wants to expand the organization’s services and staff. And while she’s doing all that, she’s also taking time for gratitude.
“This has been an amazing opportunity for Go Jen Go, to really springboard to where we want to be. The funding ability and the exposure is really helping us to launch to that next level, and that means being able to give more local patients hope and financial assistance.”
I know Jen is looking down on us, just thrilled with where we are and how many people we’re able to support.