October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the nonprofit Pink Ribbon Girls continues to support breast cancer patients, even amid the chaotic COVID-19 pandemic.

Pink Ribbon Girls is a national organization dedicated to serving patients and families as they undergo treatment for breast or gynecological cancers, including cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulvar. The local chapter – Pink Ribbon Girls Bay Area – covers the area from San Francisco to San Jose, providing free nutritious meals, rides to treatment, housecleaning services, cancer education and peer support.

According to Los Altos Hills resident Julie Arnheim, director of strategy and development for Pink Ribbon Girls, the group serves patients at all local hospitals, including El Camino Health, Valley Medical Center, Stanford and Kaiser Permanente.

Pink Ribbon Girls offers two programs aimed at different stages of breast or gynecological cancers: Simply Fight serves early-stage patients, and No Age, No Stage supports those in treatment for late-stage cancers.

The pandemic, predictably, has thrown a wrench in Pink Ribbon Girls’ event planning and presented additional challenges for the team, which launched locally two years ago.

“We had started around July of 2019, and I was brought on in January 2020,” Arnheim said. “By March, we were shut down, so it really was challenging to figure out how to make sure we expand our reach, because lots of cancer patients are immunocompromised and highly vulnerable to COVID, so we wanted to make sure we reached as many people as possible.”

In 2020, Pink Ribbon Girls Bay Area served approximately 10,559 meals and provided an estimated 1,300 rides to cancer appointments, Arnheim said. As of Aug. 28, she added, the local organization had already surpassed its 2020 numbers, delivering more than 15,000 meals and 1,400 rides, highlighting the great need for services and support for cancer patients.

A client’s story

Kerstin Belnap is one of many cancer patients Pink Ribbon Girls Bay Area has assisted. Diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2020, she underwent a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, and is now undergoing hormone treatment. After her initial diagnosis, she was off work for 11 months.

“It’s a devastating diagnosis,” Belnap said. “It’s an awful disease; it’s almost like it’s evil and it knows how to destroy everything that you care about, and then it kills you.”

Without a car, and an inability to afford Uber or Lyft, it would have been extremely difficult for Belnap to get to her medical appointments. However, with Pink Ribbon Girls’ help and transportation, she was able to get the treatments she needed.

“They also send you meals every week, which was just marvelous, because I don’t live near a grocery store and I can’t carry much, so I was pretty much doing all my shopping at 7-11, which isn’t very healthy,” Belnap said. “But the weekly delivery is really healthy, really delicious meals, and really helped me out a lot.”

While there is a lot of compassion and help for cancer patients, as seen in Pink Ribbon Girls, Belnap noted that patients typically have to reach out and speak up. In fact, she said some of her friends backed away from her after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I think that people don’t want to be very involved with somebody who might die, but that’s a very difficult thing,” Belnap said. “You just have to bear in mind that that might happen, but there are support groups that you can access through your health care.”

The American Cancer Society is another valuable support option for cancer patients. Although Belnap said the American Cancer Society does an excellent job serving cancer patients, Pink Ribbon Girls offers help at a more intimate level and proved more accessible in comparison.

How to help

Pink Ribbon Girls Bay Area is involved in several fundraising endeavors, including its Aug. 28 kick-off gala.

• The San Francisco Chapter of the Ladies Professional Golf Association Amateurs is scheduled to host a golf outing 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at The Presidio Golf Course, a benefit for Pink Ribbon Girls Bay Area.

• The Sharks Foundation’s Hockey Fights Cancer Month, sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, selected Pink Ribbon Girls as the recipient of its 50/50 Raffle Nov. 6, presented by Cache Creek Casino Resort. The Sharks will take on the New Jersey Devils 7:30 p.m. that evening at the SAP Center.

• Organizations can host a Giving Tree for Pink Ribbon Girls, allowing individuals within an organization to donate directly toward meals, rides, housecleaning, peer support and education. People also may sponsor a Simply Fight or No Age, No Stage client.

To donate to the cause, visit pinkribbongirls.org/donate. For more information on Pink Ribbon Girls, email jarnheim@pinkribbongirls.org or visit pinkribbongirls.org.


Staff Writer

Angela Tam covers local schools as the Town Crier's education reporter.