Montco nonprofit gives 'breathing room' to families fighting cancer

In the last 25 years, the "Breathing Room Foundation" has become a place where more than 15,000 patients have turned to for help.
ELKINS PARK, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- A Montgomery County nonprofit is helping thousands of families find "breathing room" while going through a cancer battle.

The Breathing Room Foundation was founded 25 years ago to help patients take care of everyday tasks while in care. But its new initiatives because of the pandemic have become a game changer.

"She'd be so proud of what this has become," said Mary Ellen Fitzgerald, the executive director of the foundation.

The "she" Fitzgerald is referring to is Diane Fitzgerald, her sister, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 30 years old while being the mother to three young kids.

"She realized during that time that not everybody had that same type of support, so she and her husband started the foundation just three months before she passed," said Fitzgerald.

In the last 25 years, the "Breathing Room Foundation" has become a place where more than 15,000 cancer patients have turned to for help with anything from bills, to groceries, to medical costs. Mary Ellen continues the mission in her sister's honor.

"That first year of 1997, we helped three families. Last year, we helped 1,400," she said.

The start of the pandemic exploited a huge need for cancer patients: transportation. A patient's treatment didn't stop when the world shut down, but buses and trains did become dangerous for the immunocompromised. At the time, the foundation had a pilot program to give people rides to their treatment. The idea quickly expanded.

"Social workers were at a loss. How do we get our patients here?" Fitzgerald said of the time.

The foundation now partners with rideshare services like Lyft and Uber to bring patients to and from their appointments. It funded more than 5,600 rides in 2021.

"There's no break in care because you don't have a ride to treatment. You have a reliable resource that takes one thing off their plate," she said.

The idea also continues Diane's original mission of giving families "breathing room."

"She would have wanted nothing more than to help more people and in a more impactful way," said Fitzgerald.

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