The Tacoma Breast Cancer Resource Center is a place that offered free support services, information, classes — even wigs — where women were taught to fight the disease. But now the center is having to fight to survive itself.

Since the middle of April, the center has had to close its doors and cease services, but it remains a sea of pink — pink boots, boas and bras.

"We have garments that can help women, if they take them to hospital, to wear home after surgery," said the center’s executive director, Janie Cunningham. "We have lightweight and regular prostheses, wigs, hats, head coverings, scarves, swimwear — all kinds of different items."

All of the center’s services are offered for free or on a loan system.

"The last thing anyone needs to do is spend more time not healing and looking for answers to their questions," Cunningham said.

The center's financial challenges began in 2009 when the downturn in the economy, fewer donations and the loss of its biggest supporter — Susan G. Komen— have left the center broke.

One of the reasons is because the center provides vouchers to low-income and underinsured women under the age of 35 for mammograms. And Komen Puget Sound said they only have so much grant funding to go around, so they focus on programs that target the population at the highest risk, those who are between the ages 40 and 64.

"It's not that we didn't have a really good case, it's just that we weren't that high up on the priority list for what they were funding," Cunningham said.

Komen Puget Sound issued a statement Thursday, saying it “was instrumental in establishing the Breast Cancer Resource Center by providing over $431,000 in grant funds between 2000 and 2008. During the course of our relationship, we informed BCRC there would be a time when we would no longer be able to sustain their program because of the need to address priorities identified in our Community Needs Assessment, which we conduct every two years. 

“We consistently encouraged BCRC to develop a plan to diversify their funding sources.  Because Komen Puget Sound’s funding priorities are tied to our Community Needs Assessment, and our grants committee and independent grant reviewers must use this data to determine who is funded each year, we can never guarantee funding any organization for an extended period of time.”

Without funding, the center will have to shut its doors for good.

Sandi Kerwin is undergoing treatment for breast cancer for the second time and appreciates the services of the center.

"I don't have to deal with insurance, I don't have to deal with, 'This is okay, this is not okay.' You know, 'You have to go here. No, you have to get this referral.' You just come and you're accepted."

Cunningham said the center is waiting on grant applications, but in the meantime she’s appealing to the community for help.

"The community deserves this. The women that come in here deserve this. The women who do not know they'll need this deserve this," she said. "We'll do anything to help them get through and I've seen it work."

In 2011, the Breast Cancer Resource Center provided:

  • 148 vouchers to 83 clients for 75 diagnostic mammograms and 78 ultrasounds;
  • 836 Patient Support Kits to 75 breast surgeons' offices through five counties for newly diagnosed women;
  • 358 clients with 212 bras, 165 wigs, 117 knit hats, 104 prostheses,104 Knitted Knockers, 88 post-mastectomy camisoles, 79 scarves, and 22 swimsuits;
  • 2,374 women with information about their county's Breast, Cervical & Colon Health Program, which provides free cancer screening to those who qualify (age & income).

The center has created a Facebook page for donations, click here to go to the page for more information.