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  • Tara Crutchfield

The Breast Cancer Foundation of Central Florida

You’ve just received the news. It’s breast cancer. The diagnosis shatters you. Questions pile one on top of the other in your mind. What are you going to do? What toll will the treatment take? Are you going to lose your breasts? Are you going to lose your life? How will your family cope? How will you afford medical bills on top of all your basic needs? This is a familiar crisis to many women across Central Florida. Thankfully, there is an organization that seeks to ease the burden of those going through cancer treatment.


Nearly one out of every eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the Breast Cancer Foundation of Central Florida (BCFCF). This disease ravages the lives of those it touches, including family, friends, and finances. The BCFCF financial assistance program was started in 2017 to provide help with household expenses while a breast cancer patient is in active treatment. This includes covering the cost of rent or mortgage payments, utility payments, car payments, car repairs, home or auto insurance, or other necessary expenses. Based in Lakeland, the organization works with communities across the west to the east coast of Central Florida. They assisted 130 women in Polk County alone last year.


BCFCF also provides a Children’s Fund that supports the unique needs of children in the homes of families with a member in active treatment for breast cancer. This assistance has included orthodontic continuation, eyeglasses, clothing, birthday and holiday gifts, school supplies, childcare, and infant supplies.


According to their website, “BCFCF reaches out to the local, Central Florida communities we serve through breast cancer education and awareness initiatives, such as panel discussions, speaking engagements, health fairs, and web-based resources. BCFCF works to share both facts and myths about breast cancer, spreads the word that breast cancer can affect all ages and sexes, and is passionate about advocating for early detection and yearly mammogram screenings. We are doing our best to impart the importance of routine, monthly self-breast exams starting by age twenty.”


In the last year, they’ve partnered with Moffitt, BayCare, and Florida Cancer Specialists to provide wigs and chemo caps to patients who can’t afford them and have started survivor groups.


In addition to their annual Pink Ribbon Gala, the Breast Cancer Foundation of Central Florida hosts Jeepin’ for a Cure in October. Last year, they raised $18K and look to triple that number this year. One hundred percent of the proceeds raised go directly to breast cancer patients.



Ashley Lloyd is the outreach director and only employee for the Breast Cancer Foundation of Central Florida. She was also a recipient of their care. Two years ago, Lloyd was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. “You don’t know what you’re going to do when you’re diagnosed. How am I going to feed my kids, pay for their soccer camp, and pay my mortgage?” she said. After receiving assistance from BCFCF, she fell in love with their mission, quit her job, and started with the organization in November 2022. Since Lloyd took over, there’s been a 73% increase in awareness of their cause. In 2023, BCFCF gave out nearly $300K and saw an increase in patient applications by almost 50 percent.


The originization is always in need of donations and volunteers, but spreading awareness of what they do is just as valuable. “We want people to know that we exist. We’re not just here to give assistance. We also have people who can mentor you if you’re diagnosed,” said Lloyd.


MARBIE’S STORY

Marbelis ‘Marbie’ Garcia Wonders is originally from South Florida. She’s lived in Lakeland since 2006. Wonders is a fifth-grade teacher at Willow Oak School in Mulberry, has been married for over 26 years, and has two grown children.


Wonders went for a regular checkup in the summer of 2022. She was turning 50 in October and hadn’t had a mammogram the previous two years because of the pandemic. “I wasn’t very worried about it because I don’t have a history of cancer in my family,” she said.


Her son was a senior in high school and a member of the Dreadnaught marching band. The team was headed for a championship, and Wonders was president of the band boosters and partially in charge of the concession stand. Life was busy.


Then, she was called in for a second mammogram. Following that, she was told to come back for a biopsy. Wonders began to grow worried. “They called me back in late September and informed me of my diagnosis over the phone – that I had breast cancer,” she said.


She was diagnosed with Stage 1 of an aggressive form of breast cancer called HER2+.


“I was very stunned because I felt fine,” she said. “For them to tell me that there’s something wrong with my body when I didn’t feel like there was anything wrong with my body was counterintuitive to me. It was really something I had to wrap my mind around. That was a tough pill for me to swallow because there was nothing wrong with me.”


Wonders was rushed to the oncologist and the breast surgeon to decide on a treatment plan. She was given the diagnosis on September 22, saw the breast surgeon on September 26, and was in surgery for a lumpectomy by November 1. Her case required a second surgery on November 15 to clear the margins.


Following these two surgeries, Wonders had 12 weeks of chemotherapy, 21 rounds of radiation – five days a week for four weeks – and had to take Herceptin and Perjeta every three weeks for a year.


The financial demands began to take their toll when someone from Watson Clinic recommended she apply with the Breast Cancer Foundation of Central Florida. “Things were starting to pile up at the house as far as bills go,” she said.


Her engineer husband lost his job in 2008, and the family went through bankruptcy and foreclosure. “It’s just been in the last four or five years we’ve finally started to come out of it and be in a much better place financially.”


They’d gotten their homeowner’s insurance bill, and because of an aging roof on the house, their mortgage payment skyrocketed by $600 a month. “What are we going to do now?” she thought.


Then, BCFCF accepted her application. They agreed to pay her utility bills in full for four months. “That alone was a big help,” she said. “Them paying that one bill was enough to give us a little breathing room to figure out what we needed to do. […] It was one thing off my plate that I didn’t have to worry about. I could put it on them and focus on other things. When you have so many things going on, even one less stressor was helpful.”


Today, Wonders is in remission with no evidence of disease detected. She is finished with treatment and has since had two clear mammograms. The fifthgrade teacher hopes to pay it forward with the organization that helped her during her battle with breast cancer.


Asked if her diagnosis changed the way she lived her life at all, Wonders replied, “I was someone who didn’t sweat the small stuff to begin with. I definitely don’t do it now.”


Breast Cancer Foundation of Central Florida

P.O. Box 2508, Lakeland, FL

FB: Breast Cancer Foundation of Central Florida

IG @breastcancerfoundationcfl


Photographs Provided

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