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Hope Chest Helps Low-Income Breast Cancer Patients

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - Saving money while trying to save your own life.

It's a concept that seems unfair when your life should be seen as priceless. But for many low-income people, it's a reality.

The founder of a local charity which aims to help women fighting breast cancer is doing something to change that.

All proceeds from Hope Chest for Breast Cancer go to help local women who struggle to meet their immediate needs of food, transportation and medical costs.

Drawing makes Cassandra Grant happy.

"Well, what it does, it relaxes me," she said.

She received news from her doctor in 2009 that she had invasive breast cancer.

"She took one look at me and says, 'That's coming out of you!'" she said.

Grant chose to receive care at Abbott Northwestern, in part because she knew they were affiliated with Hope Chest's charitable donations.

Doctors took her in for immediate surgery, removing her left breast and nine lymph nodes. She was then told her cancer would likely spread.

Four years later, Grant has stage-four cancer, which has spread to her liver and brain.

"I'm in pain all the time. I'm in pain right now. But, you know, I guess I got so used to the pain, I just live with the pain, you know, as long as I'm still alive," she said.

Grant says that unlike the glamorous message portrayed by highly-fashionable bright pink products, this is a real disease that happens to real people.

"No, it's not glamorous at all," she said.

Her constant trips to the hospital for chemo make working and paying the bills impossible.

"Chemo costs like $17,000," Grant said.

Instead of sitting at home, she chose to go to school for a degree in business administration.

"I go to National American University, and they just love me there," she said. "They say, 'Ms. Grant, you something else!'"

She hopes her degree will give her a leg up in selling her drawings and paintings. But before she gets that degree, she relies on Hope Chest to help meet many of her needs.

"I mean, I didn't know how I was going to do Christmas," she said. "Maybe two weeks before Christmas … enough donations came in for us to have like Target gift cards, Cub [grocery gift card]. I'm able to get food, like $200 worth, I was like so happy."

It was a dose of hope when she needed it most.

"They don't give up on you," she said.

Grant says she's not afraid to die, but it makes the journey that much more worth it when touched by kindness.

"Because I believe what the Bible say. He knows when you're born and he knows when you goin' to go," Grant said. "It's not my time to go yet."

Every day, Barbara Hensley sees the direst of circumstances. And if that's not reminder enough to remain grateful, she also has her own story.

She lost not one, but both of her sisters to breast cancer.

"[Kathy} was diagnosed before age 40, baseline mammograms," she said. "Patsy was diagnosed six months after Kathy died, and she died 18 months later, almost to the day of Kathy's."

Hensley took her pain and loss and founded Hope Chest For Breast Cancer in 2001.

It was in an appointment at a county hospital that Hensley realized how bleak the fight can be for those who are struggling to save their life and save their money.

"We would go into the chemo room and there would be 60 people getting chemo all at the same time," she said.

But Hensley honed in on one patient: a woman that would soon serve as inspiration to help thousands.

"Her name was Nancy … at Nancy's feet were three young children, because Nancy could not afford childcare," Hensley said.

And now with every day spent in her two Hope Chest consignment stores, she has Nancy in mind.

"We want to make it easy for the Nancy's of the world to get the help they need," she said.

Everything inside her stores is donated. And after subtracting operating costs, all the profits go to the cause.

The money made buys things like pre-packaged meals for moms and their children, as well as transportation and help with paying bills.

Nurses from nine local hospitals also make daily reports to Hope Chest, detailing the needs of their low-income patients.

"A woman's in getting treatment at one of our hospitals, and she said, 'They're turning my electricity off tomorrow and I can't pay the bill. And what's worse is the social worker called me this morning and they're taking my kids away if I don't pay that electric bill,'" Hensley said.

With each bill paid, Hensley turns pain into purpose, and it inspires others to do the same.

"[My sisters] would be so proud," she said. "If you bring people together, they will make a difference."

Hope Chest for Breast Cancer estimates they are helping only 20 percent of those in need in the Twin Cities.

On Feb. 22, Aristea Brady is competing in "Dancing with the Twin Cities Celebrities," and is raising money for Hope Chest.

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