National breast cancer support group formed in Southland closes doors
Staff Reports July 13, 2012 4:40PM
White and pink balloons float over the finish line in May during Y-Me's annual Race at Your Pace in Chicago. | File photo
Updated: August 17, 2012 6:43AM
The Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization, a support group formed in 1978 by a Southland woman and her friend, has closed its doors, the organization said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
The Chicago-based national organization helped breast cancer patients receive support, access information and make informed decisions about their health care, all as free services. It relied heavily on fundraisers, including its annual walk and race most recently held at Grant Park in Chicago in May.
Race organizers told the Chicago Sun-Times that day that fundraising may have been hurt by bad publicity when another breast cancer charity, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, cut funding to Planned Parenthood, a decision the Komen Foundation later reversed.
The statement about Y-ME’s closure did not provide a reason for the shutdown. The nonprofit group’s website was shut down Friday, and numerous calls resulted in busy signals.
“I think the way it was handled was extremely insensitive,” said Margaret Harte, who founded the race 21 years ago. “I think it was cruel. There were volunteers who were talking to women at different stages of their illness and now you can’t get an answer on the hotline. It’s wrong.”
Harte said previous management committed the group to long-term leases of expensive office space and the board of directors failed to rein in the extra spending. Newer management has not been able get out of the leases, Harte said.
On Thursday, the board decided to close down and fired the staff.
“A lot of people were shocked,” Harte said. “But it was absolutely the board’s decision, and we were not happy about it. This is due to incompetence and mismanagement and a bad board, it’s as simple as that.”
Several board members did not return calls from the Sun-Times. But the group’s treasurer, Maureen Durack, told Fox News that “a serious cash flow problem stemming from an unexpected cash flow crisis and low revenues from our major fundraisers put the organization in financial instability.”
The organization was started by Mimi Kaplan and Ann Marcou, the latter an Olympia Fields resident when she died in 2004.
Marcou, who beat breast cancer but later died of advanced small cell lung cancer, would get out of bed at 4 a.m. to counsel a fellow breast cancer sufferer if the telephone rang.
The organization sprang from those humble beginnings.
Marcou had started work on a graduate degree in therapeutic counseling at Governors State University when she met Kaplan, a university librarian and fellow breast cancer patient. They called their support group “Why Me,” but later changed it to “Y-ME” in honor of the Park Forest YWCA, which gave them their first office space. It later moved to Homewood and eventually Chicago.
Back then, there was little information available to the public about breast cancer and virtually no support services. The women believed learning about the disease and discussing their emotions could help ease the isolation and difficulty of their diagnosis. They invited other breast cancer survivors to an informal coffee and knew they had found an unmet need when more women attended than had been invited.
Marcou began running a hot line from her kitchen, answering questions and providing support.
After Kaplan’s death in 1982, Marcou kept expanding services to help anyone touched by breast cancer, starting with a 24-hour Y-ME National Breast Cancer Hotline staffed entirely by breast cancer survivors, with interpreters available in 150 languages.
The hot line was taking more than 40,000 calls per year, and support was such that more than 30,000 people attended the fundraising race in May.
Contributing: Art Golab