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    Connecting the Dots

    By Joanie Juster–

    Having worked at many places, and volunteered for so many causes, I know it’s inevitable that there will be times when there is overlap. Paths cross, dots are connected between people, places, causes. The synergy between some of these became very apparent these past few weeks, as I attended a thought-provoking open house for one organization I’ve supported for decades, and am working on a big event for another.

    Over 30 years ago I started working with the AIDS Emergency Fund. AEF started in 1982 as a grassroots effort by the leather community in the earliest days of the AIDS crisis as a way to provide emergency financial assistance to people with AIDS when they became too sick to work. In 2001, AEF created a sister agency, Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, to provide the same kind of assistance to low-income women while they underwent breast cancer treatment. As the nature of AIDS changed over the course of its 30 years, AEF also changed, and was acquired by PRC, where it continues providing the same kind of essential financial support under its new name, EFA—the Emergency Financial Assistance program.

    Meanwhile, the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund eventually became a stand-alone agency, and at the beginning of the pandemic began a new chapter as BOCEF—the Breast and Ovarian Cancer Emergency Fund, a program of Bay Area Cancer Connections (BACC), which has been providing a wide array of supportive services for free to breast and ovarian cancer patients for thirty years.

    While I was attending the open house at PRC last week (more on that later), I found myself connecting the dots. There is a straight line from the AIDS Emergency Fund to the work that PRC and BACC are continuing to do today. People who are sick, whether it is HIV or AIDS, or breast or ovarian cancer, or any other disease, need financial help to keep the roof over their head and the lights on while they are too sick to work. Whether it was AEF’s iconic Every Penny Counts campaign (remember AEF’s penny jars on every bar in the city?) to This Old Bag, the festive handbag auction that has been raising funds for breast and ovarian patients since 2005, these programs provide a lifeline to people when they need it most. Read on to learn more about this year’s This Old Bag.

    The Return of This Old Bag: An Old Favorite With a New Twist

    Raising money to pay the bills for cancer patients may be serious work, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, too. “This Old Bag: The Power of the Purse” is a festive, fashion-filled evening of shopping for a cause. Fashionistas, philanthropists, and those for whom cancer is a personal and professional cause will be gathering for a fun and life-affirming event to raise funds to provide free cancer support for those facing breast or ovarian cancer. Bags of all sorts—handbags, sports bags, tech bags, travel bags—will be auctioned off to raise money for emergency grants that serve as a crucial safety net for eligible clients. These grants help with paying essential bills that make it possible to maintain a stable living situation during treatment.

    A small sampling of this year’s auction includes elegant bags from Hermes, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Senreve, Mulberry, and many more; autographed bags from Kristen Bell, Glenn Close, and Sharon Stone; a surprise gift from Chelsea Handler; backpacks and messenger bags; and much more. Bags will range from $40 to $7,000—something for everyone. But the real excitement is sure to come from a festive drag bag donated and autographed by San Francisco’s own history-making Drag Laureate, D’Arcy Drollinger. The celebrity emcee for the evening will be none other than Sister Roma

    San Francisco Bay Times columnist Liam Mayclem and public
    relations executive David Perry at This Old Bag 2022

    Why handbags? The “power of the purse” is providing financial assistance when someone needs it the most. Unfortunately, for many, a cancer diagnosis can mean losing their job, insurance, even their home. BACC’s BOCEF program—the Breast and Ovarian Cancer Emergency Fund—can provide a safety net that no one else provides, paying essential bills like rent, utilities, insurance premiums, and co-pays. That Prada bag you purchase at This Old Bag can provide an emergency grant to a client for a year.

    Also on display at This Old Bag will be BACC’s mobile resource center: a baby-blue van named Tiffany that houses a rolling boutique, where clients can get wigs, bras, prosthetics, comfort totes, and other items to make their lives easier during cancer treatment. And all of these services are 100% free. Tiffany’s mission is to take BACC’s services on the road, to help clients who can’t easily access services. Tiffany can often be found at street fairs, health fairs, community centers, as well as regular visits to Zuckerberg SF General’s monthly breast cancer clinic.

    This Old Bag: The Power of the Purse, a benefit for BACC, takes place on Friday, October 6, at the Green Room at the War Memorial Veterans Building. For more information, tickets, and sponsorship opportunities:

    Cancer Is an LGBTQ+ Issue

    Why did I write so much about This Old Bag? Because September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As someone who works for an organization that provides services to people with both those diseases, I can tell you we are all out in the community doing a lot of education these days, helping people understand their risks, their options, and how to navigate life with cancer.

    One of the issues that has become clear is that breast and ovarian cancers are LGBTQ+ issues. There have not been many comprehensive studies to date, but a few recent breast cancer studies have showed a disturbing pattern. Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Despite the fact that breast cancer impacts all genders, including men, people who are transgender, nonbinary, or another gender minority tend to have a higher risk for breast cancer than cisgender straight people, and tend to have worse outcomes.

    These tendencies are not because of differences in biology. Lifestyle risk factors continue to be studied, but the tendencies are mostly due to the lack of access to affirming, inclusive health care. People who receive regular screenings are likely to find cancer and pre-cancerous cells earlier, and receive treatment earlier, which leads to more effective treatment and better outcomes. If you do not feel welcome or safe at the doctor’s office or local health clinic, chances are you will put off getting screened, or won’t receive recommendations for regular screenings, which means problems may not get caught in time to be treatable.

    Ovarian cancer is even more of a challenge. Although it accounts for only about 4% of all diagnosed cancers in women, it is the fourth leading cause of cancer death for people with ovaries. Unlike breast cancer, for which there are regular, effective screenings available, there is no standard, reliable test for ovarian cancer. The good news is that if caught early, the 5-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is over 90%. The bad news is that 75% of patients are diagnosed in advanced stages, when survival rates are low.

    Access to welcoming, inclusive, timely health care is an equity issue. Fortunately, it is a fast-growing field of study and concern, and each year there are more resources available to help LGBTQ+ people find the culturally appropriate healthcare they need and deserve. I found several listed in an article from UMPC. Check this out; it’s a start:

    PRC’s Open House

    One of the ever-present challenges in the nonprofit world is how to keep your supporters engaged in your mission. Many people become involved with an organization because the mission is personal to them: either they, or a loved one, has been affected by that disease, or that issue. But if there is no personal connection, how do you make them understand the urgency of your work?

    PRC held an event on September 13 that did an extraordinary job of bridging the gap between understanding the organization’s mission intellectually, and personally. A bit of a history lesson here: In the early 1980s, when San Franciscans were losing their health, their jobs, and their homes due to falling ill from AIDS, AIDS Benefits Counselors was created to help people navigate the systems to be able to access any health and legal benefits they might be entitled to. I remember volunteering for them, in a tiny office overlooking Castro Street.

    As the face of AIDS changed over the decades, so did the services they provided. As new treatments became available, and people grew healthy enough to go back to work, job training and computer labs were added. Small but feisty little ABC became Positive Resource Center, then, eventually, PRC. As it became clear that more and more clients were struggling not just with HIV/AIDS, but also substance abuse, mental health problems, and homelessness, services were added to create a more comprehensive safety net. The array of services seemed daunting. How do you explain this all to the public?

    PRC chose to open its doors and invite guests in for an open house, offering to let them experience PRC as a client would. Guests were provided with a “passport,” and could visit each department equipped with a sample client story, where they were greeted as a client would be, and walked through the process of accessing services.

    The theoretical became personal; the effect was profoundly moving. As guests got a glimpse of the enormous challenges faced by PRC’s clients on a daily basis, they began to understand and empathize. Board member Gary Virginia spoke at the gathering about how AIDS Benefits Counselors and AIDS Emergency Fund made it possible for him to keep going when he was at his lowest point. Between the tours and the personal stories, guests were able to connect the dots, understanding the crucial impact of these services on the lives of PRC’s clients.

    For more info on PRC’s services, and how you can help:

    Until Next Time

    The fall season is packed with events. Stay tuned for the next issue when I will share more about the 24-hour banned books event at Fabulosa Books on October 14–15, Russian River Pride, Bearrison, and much more. In the meantime, don’t forget to get your flu and COVID shots!

    Joanie Juster is a long-time community volunteer, activist, and ally.

    In Case You Missed It
    Published on September 21, 2023