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Meet Carrie Madrid of The Care Project in Riverside

Today we’d like to introduce you to Carrie Madrid.

Carrie, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Shortly after my 2012 diagnosis of Stage III breast cancer, I began an arduous course of treatment to include mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, followed by multiple surgeries for reconstruction. Along the way, I met other breast cancer patients. The physical and emotional toll of cancer was obvious, but I hadn’t fully realized how financially devastating breast cancer could be.

I met patients who literally could not afford the gas to get back and forth to treatments. Patients who could not afford to pay for necessary medication that wasn’t covered by insurance. Patients who were so sick they couldn’t work and as a result, didn’t have enough money to pay rent or buy groceries. Patients who couldn’t afford to buy their kids’ school clothes. Everyday necessities became luxuries. It was heartbreaking and just wrong!

I just couldn’t shake the worry I saw on fellow patients’ faces as they wondered how they would make ends meet. Despite my own medical and financial struggles, I looked for a solution and tried to find local organizations that offered substantive ongoing financial support for breast cancer patients. There were a few organizations in the surrounding area that could offer a support group, wig or the like, but no financial support. It was then I realized what my purpose was. In 2014, I enlisted my best friend Christina to help me establish The CARE Project, Inc. (TCP.) Our mission was to provide emotional and financial support to male and female breast cancer patients. We didn’t have experience running a nonprofit, but we had guts, grit, determination and heart! We wanted patients to focus on healing, not finances. We started out in my apartment and received donations mostly from family and close friends who believed in my “big, bright idea.” That first year, we raised $8,000 and provided 16 patients with $7,700 in financial assistance and gift cards. (Financial assistance for rent, utilities, groceries, household goods.)

Soon after we opened our doors, it became clear that in addition to financial support, many patients yearned for emotional support and companionship outside of a traditional support group setting. We created the Survivor Social Club. This would become a relaxed, small group of survivors and newly diagnosed patients who share a common bond and thrive on being with others who have “been there, done that.” I realized the newly diagnosed needed mentors to help them understand the complexities of treatment. We then created our Survivor Mentor program, guided by Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Raychelle Addo. (A childhood friend of mine, who’s own mother battled breast cancer twice.)

Fast forward to 2019: With seven years between myself and my initial diagnosis, I realized that “Survivorship” is the hardest part of the cancer experience for me and many others. Breast cancer forever alters our lives emotionally and physically. Getting over the initial barrage of surgery, chemo and radiation is only the first step. The truth is medical, financial and emotional scars can last a lifetime and the need for ongoing support is real. (Why our motto is “Never Stop Caring!”. The TCP Wellness Program was created to help with the survivorship challenges. In our new office we have a fitness room where patients and survivors can work out in a clean, safe environment. Yoga classes taught by an oncology nurse navigator specifically trained in yoga for breast cancer patients. We also have a meditation and massage room for patients, caregivers and survivors to escape to a quiet, serene space. Meditation, Reiki and Massage Therapy is done in this beautiful space. We have developed a Wellness Team of professionals who will come in at least quarterly to host workshops, classes and the like. The team consists of a Registered Yoga Teacher, Nutritionists, Life Coaches, Personal Trainers, Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Gynecologist and hormone expert as well as our own Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Angela D. Martin who is an expert in Diabetes and internal medicine.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
My personal cancer experience has been very dicey as I had many complications with reconstruction and at one point landed in ICU for two weeks septic and fighting for my life. In terms of starting The CARE Project; Everything has fallen into place and I believe that is because I am truly living my purpose. Our community has come behind our mission and not only embraced it but supported it.

Please tell us about The Care Project.
The CARE Project, Inc., is very unique in the nonprofit community. There are many breast cancer organizations but most have to pay salaries and do not provide financial assistance to patients more than grocery or fuel gift cards. TCP provides assistance with rent, mortgage, copays, utilities, cell phone bills, childcare, groceries, prom, holidays and more. There is not a lot of red tape to obtain assistance and that is perfect for a patient already overwhelmed with navigating multiple medical providers, treatments, etc. We also have a Survivor Social Club in lieu of a traditional support group. This is very appealing to many patients who would never walk into a support group for fear of needing to sit in a circle, share their personal feelings and story and the like. We are a relaxed group of friends sitting around checking in like friends do. We also have outings and fun events to just forget about cancer for a time. There is not a moderator or agenda. Picture a family dinner type environment.

Something else that sets us apart is the fact that we include male patients. Society automatically assumes breast cancer patients are female but the stats are 1 in 833 men will be diagnosed in their lifetime. 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed. We are part of the Male Breast Cancer Coalition and are working hard to raise awareness for male breast cancer and providing support to male patients across the globe! We pride ourselves in not being pink washed in our marketing, office and events.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
TCP is a passion project and because I’m a survivor myself, I’ve “been there, done that” and understand the needs of our clients. I am a client! We are also all volunteers from board members, officers and Founders. Not one dime raised goes in our pockets, but in the pockets of our clients.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Nicole Christopher, Tamara Trowbridge, Nicole Nakata

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