Helping Patients Pay It Forward

Everyone knows it costs a bundle to live in New York City. To afford even basic needs, like health insurance, many New Yorkers are forced to work multiple jobs. To make matters worse, according to New York City mandates, people younger than 40 with a salary above $28,000 may not apply for medical assistance such as Medicaid and Healthy NY. But Janice Zaballero, founder of the Breast Treatment Task Force (BTTF), is making sure such regulations don’t deprive patients of the early detection measures that save lives.


Eighty percent of BTTF’s patients are under age 40 and are therefore ineligible to receive assistance. For the last seven years, the program has helped many women avoid extensive medical debt and even bankruptcy. Their free screenings, treatment and follow-up visits have even moved patients to assist other women in similar ways. “The most satisfying aspect (of the work) is seeing our former patients ‘pay it forward’,” says Janice. One patient in particular decided to study law in order to do just that. Turning negatives into positives is what the Breast Treatment Task Force is all about, and with Janice leading the way they’re sure to continue.


In Seon Kim is a 50-year-old breast cancer survivor. She was referred to the BTTF by one of the organization’s community partners, Korean Community Services. Since Kim did not qualify for Medicaid or state assistance, she was enrolled in BTTF to receive life-saving care completely free of cost. Kim may now focus on her recovery, rather than medical debt.

Kim remembers when she first needed a biopsy because of a suspicious tumor. Although she had a good chance of survival, the hospital’s financial department said they would be unable to treat her without charging tens of thousands of dollars.


“I couldn’t sleep that night,” Kim said. “I knew I could beat cancer, but if I couldn’t start the treatment now, I would be just waiting to die—in pain waiting for cancer to take me. Am I fated to die like this without a chance for life-saving treatment? What about my kids? I cried all night thinking about all these things.”


Thankfully, Kim was enrolled in BTTF’s diagnostic and treatment programs, and received the full range of medical care free of cost. Kim truly believes she survived because of her “faith that there are so many good people in the world and I want to live among them.”


Today Kim is recovering well after her reconstructive surgery. She is happy to be spending time with her children, and looks forward to returning to work. Kim now wants to advocate for other uninsured patients, voicing her support for safety net programs that help individuals like her, who fall through the cracks of state or federal assistance.


Donations from Yoplait and the American Cancer Society Force help uninsured women get the care they need. Please join them and Janice Zaballero in support of the Breast Treatment Task Force. Donate today.