Embrace Your Sisters Offers Breast Cancer Support

Group provides emergency financial grants to area women diagnosed with breast cancer

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

For Bridget Viens, leading Embrace Your Sisters is all about supporting people affected by breast cancer. 

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The Canandaigua-based nonprofit provides short-term emergency financial grants to area women diagnosed with breast cancer and offers a list of local and national cancer resources on its website.

Viens, a Canandaigua resident, has had some friends diagnosed with the illness, including one of her best friends, who had a young child.

“I saw the financial struggle she had to maintain a typical life for her 6-year-old,” Viens said. “There are people in need. While you can get assistance for medical expenses, there are limited places for daily living expenses.”

Of course, medical insurance covers many of the otherwise budget-blowing expenses of treating cancer. However, some treatments are not covered. Plus, patients normally pay copays for each visit to care providers, each time lab work is done and each admission. If you want to help cancer patients financially, you may shop to provide cancer support here. 

Travel expenses—including hotel stays, gas, vehicle maintenance and parking, meals out and extra help such as additional childcare and cleaning services are not covered by insurance.

While receiving treatments or recovering from surgery, most people do not feel well enough to work.

The organization was co-founded in 2006 by Chrisann Philipson, who was diagnosed with breast cancer, along with Lisa DiStefano-Cessna, Alisha Cessna, Judith Raffard and Daisie Nichols-Stanley, all from the Canandaigua area. Philipson struggled financially with the cost of treatments so the women held a chicken barbecue. Their efforts proved so successful that they decided to found Embrace Your Sisters to help more people.

“Since then, we’ve been going strong,” Viens said. “Financial stresses can mount up and hinder someone’s ability to focus on their health because they’re so stressed out. They may have young children. You don’t want to change your child’s life or worry about groceries.”

The organization requires a simple application process. A confidential application committee reviews applications and approves those who meet their specifications. The applications are not viewed by the entire 11-person board.

Because all of the organization’s staff is all-volunteer and local, Viens believes that Embrace Your Sisters can dedicate more funding to directly helping people.

About 70% goes to those who have applied for assistance and the rest goes to the organization’s overhead, including its two annual fundraisers.

As with many organizations, COVID-19 has curtailed Embrace Your Sister’s fundraising efforts. Although Embrace Your Sisters sells merchandise from its website, its fundraising events bring in most of its funding. In 2020, both its main events were canceled: the spring fashion show and Positively Pink walk event in September. Viens said a few local donations from local people helped despite the events’ cancellation.

Other COVID-19 changes include a reduced number of applications from patients, which Viens attributes to cancer patients trying to limit contact with other people such as social workers.

“We started a large outreach program this year,” Viens said. “We put together a packet for outreach that has gone to medical establishments to make sure the social workers will make referrals. Hopefully, things are getting back on track. We decided in May not to hold our fashion show in person. We pushed it back to July to hold it virtually. Some of the local stores will put together some videos on fashion that will be part of our virtual event.”

Embrace Your Sister distributed $320,000 between 2011 and 2021. Viens remains hopeful that the organization can host Positively Pink fundraiser walk in person in September.

Embrace Your Sisters provides short-term emergency financial assistance to residents of Allegany, Cayuga, Chemung, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins, Wayne and Yates counties.

More information can be found at www.embraceyoursisters.org.

Photo: Positively Pink is one of the major fundraisers for Embrace Your Sisters. It was canceled last year, but organizers hope to make it happen this September.