As the holiday festivities begin, The Hero Foundation wants to remind the community not every family is lucky enough to afford Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas presents let alone pay for everyday necessities. Families coping with cancer are not only concerned with the emotional aspects of the disease, but they must deal with the financial side effects of cancer as well.
According to the American Cancer Society, one in three people will be diagnosed with cancer throughout their lifetime. Adam Henige, president of The Hero Foundation West Michigan, said almost everyone he meets has a personal connection to cancer, making those affected even greater.
“Whenever I’m speaking in front of the crowd, I ask, who here knows someone, friend or family, who’ve had cancer. If there is someone who doesn’t raise their hand in the room, it’s more of a surprise than anything,” Henige said.
It was because of his own personal connections to those who have had cancer that led Henige to join The Hero Foundation. “I, like everyone else, have had people in my life who’ve fallen victim to cancer,” Henige said. “I’ve definitely seen the toll it’s taken on people, so it was an easy cause to get behind.”
Founded by Katie Larsen in 2009, The Hero Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports Michigan families suffering from cancer. After Larsen’s father recovered from pancreatic cancer, she wanted to find a way to help ease the financial burdens of fighting cancer for families in Michigan.
“Initially, it was just some friends raising money to help other cancer charities, but we wanted more control over it,” Henige said. “We didn’t know where the money was going so we kind of took the initiative to start doing our own things.”
Since it aims to provide as much financial support as possible to families, The Hero Foundation operates as an all-volunteer organization. “If we raise $1,000, we don’t have administrative costs. We just give them the money and if they need to pay the bills, they can do it,” Henige said.
When a family member suffers from cancer, Henige explained that not only do medical bills become a worry for families, but finding a way to also pay the mortgage can intensify the anxiety. “A lot of times, it comes down to you can pay your medical bills or your house. Medical bills kind of come first if you need to keep receiving treatment so then it becomes an added stress of wondering where you’re going to live next month,” Henige said.
Because of this common struggle, The Hero Foundation’s purpose is to serve the immediate needs of families rather than focusing on long-term goals, such as finding a cure. While that is vital for the fight against cancer, Henige explained that other organizations are taking care of that aspect and what some families require right now is short-term relief.
“It’s not just the awareness of cancer. Everyone knows that, but the realization of the number of families that struggle financially while trying to get treatment, that’s the big deal,” Henige said.
A single mother from Sparta shared similar financial struggles when she found out her 4-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia. Because her son had to stay at the hospital for 10 days in a row for testing, the mother was forced to quit her job as a result. Soon after, though, she was connected with The Hero Foundation, which was able to provide her with the money to pay off everyday debts, such as utility bills, car payments, phone bills, and groceries.
“The Hero Foundation lifted a burden from my chest that I cannot express,” said the mother, who prefers to remain anonymous. “Other organizations gave generously as well, but with lots of paperwork and strings attached. The Hero Foundation made it very easy for us to get financial help and use it where we needed it most.”
As the holiday season approaches, The Hero Foundation understands that there can be additional pressure for families, which is why the organization will be partnering with businesses around West Michigan to provide these families with Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas presents.
Individuals are also welcome to get involved through the act of sponsoring a family, donating money to a family, or connecting a family in need with The Hero Foundation. Families who have been impacted by the hardships of cancer are advised to get in touch with the organization via its website.
Due to the sensitive timeframe of cancer, Henige knows just how important this holiday season may be for families dealing with the disease. “A lot of these instances, unfortunately, it might be someone in the family’s last Christmas,” Henige said. However, The Hero Foundation hopes by sponsoring families with meal deliveries and Christmas gifts, they can help families have a happy holiday.
For more information, visit The Hero Foundation’s website.
*Photos courtesy of The Hero Foundation