For the past 15 years, an East Lansing-based nonprofit has eased the financial burdens of cancer patients enduring some of their most trying times.
Founded by Suzi Wyman and Barb McKessy, It’s a Breast Thing has awarded grants to hundreds of individuals enduring breast cancer treatment since the organization started in 2007.
“Barb and I are hairdressers, and we started it because so many of our clients have gone through it over the years,” said Wyman. “We just felt that there were so many people who fell between the cracks and needed help. We had always supported breast cancer prevention in one way or another, but we decided we wanted to kind of raise the bar and do more. That was when we decided to put together It’s a Breast Thing.”
The nonprofit hosts its signature fundraiser each October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and features a bra-decorating contest, with the 12 selected winning designs showcased in a calendar modeled by breast cancer survivors. The evening also includes health-related exhibitors and educational programming.
Throughout the remainder of the year, It’s a Breast Thing continues to fundraise and hold events, such as the large garage sale held this past August.
“We also have a big outreach group that interacts with the community through speaking engagements in the different counties that we service and work with the nurse navigators, oncology nurses, social workers,” Wyman said. “We service 19 counties in mid-Michigan. We started out with four. We also spend a lot of time working on putting together other fundraisers to support our grants.”
Initially, It’s a Breast Thing directed its donations to a variety of organizations helping breast cancer patients or working toward a cure. Today, the nonprofit directly helps individual patients through its grants.
“We incorporated in 2010 and started giving out grants in 2012. Since that time, we have given out about 550 grants,” Wyman said. “It’s helped so many people. It just warms your heart to be able to do that for people who are going through such a difficult time. In no way, shape or form do they need to let us know what they do with that money. That’s up to them to make that decision. Many of them use it to help pay down medical bills, purchase prosthetics or wigs, for transportation to and from treatments, or for child care while they’re in treatment. We really don’t feel it’s our place to direct them as to what is important for them.”
Awarding the grants is the most personally fulfilling aspect of what Wyman does.
“Getting letters from people and different cards from people just telling you how much it has helped, what it’s done, how it’s changed their life — it just makes me feel so great to know that we’re able to help so many people,” she said.
For more information or to donate to It’s a Breast Thing, visit itsabreastthing.org.