Brie Bender loves teaching. After six years at the Sunnyvale KinderCare in Sunnyvale, Calif., she’s seen the usual childhood colds and sniffles. When she caught strep throat last June her illness seemed fairly normal except for a strange lump in her throat, a lump that didn’t go away when her antibiotic treatment ran its course.
Bender spent the rest of the summer visiting doctor after doctor going through a slew of procedures and hoping for the best. After all, she’s young and doesn’t smoke or drink, so one abnormal lump ought to just be that: abnormal. But after an ultrasound confirmed the strange lump was in fact a tumor, and biopsies and MRIs didn’t provide any additional answers, at the end of September Bender had surgery to remove the abnormality.
On Sept. 30 Bender had her answer: squamous cell carcinoma. Cancer.
She also had a mystery. Doctors said her tumor was a “secondary site,” meaning it wasn’t the primary site of the cancer. Bender took more days off of work for more tests – a PET scan, a tonsillectomy, biopsies of her tongue and nasal passages – but nothing provided the answer she and her doctors sought. Where was the primary tumor?
Eventually Bender’s doctors recommended additional surgery to remove a lymph node from her neck. By this point the mother of two’s finances were stretched to their absolute limit. She already owed $10,000 in medical bills.
“I just wait for the mailman to bring more bad news,” she said.
Bender decided to transfer to the medical center at Stanford where a patient program would pay for some of her medical expenses. On Dec. 8 she returned to the operating room for more surgery.
Doctors removed eight of the 30 lymph nodes in Bender’s neck. Although none of them had cancerous cells, each node was abnormally shaped, meaning each one had been affected by her cancer. After two days in the hospital Bender was allowed to go home, but without the answer she sought.
Even now, two months after her last surgery, and with a scar from her ear to her throat, Bender can’t consider herself cancer free. In fact, she has to return to her doctor every three months for the next five to seven years for an MRI to look for new tumors to the tune of about $6,000 per year. She also has to attend physical therapy after surgery caused complications to her shoulder muscles.
Close to declaring bankruptcy, Bender applied for the ONE Fund, the KinderCare Education employee relief fund. While she hoped her application would be accepted, she nevertheless prepared herself for a less positive outcome. After all, the bills won’t just go away.
Much to her relief, Bender’s application was accepted. Although excited to hear the news, she didn’t want to tell her coworkers because she didn’t want to appear as though she was bragging. As Bender tells it, she’s hardly alone in her financial troubles. Everyone has their own personal things to work through, whether those are health issues like hers, or a divorce, or something else. Still, the ONE Fund is a support tool everyone can understand and benefit from, or help others through.
“Everyone’s story is very personal to [them], but everybody knows what it’s like to pay bills,” Bender said. I would encourage everyone to try [to apply]. You don’t need to have a medical need.”
Most importantly, Bender said the ONE Fund reminds KinderCare employees facing a difficult time that they have the support.
“There are people out there who will support you. You are not alone.”
The ONE Fund helps KinderCare Education employees in need of immediate assistance due to a tragic event in their lives. It is supported solely by employees, for employees and has helped nearly 50 KinderCare teachers and staff since its inception in 2014. Employee participation is crucial to keep the fund strong. Click here (and click on the green button on the right hand start of the page after logging in) to start contributing any amount from your next paycheck.