A Shelter from the StormOct 01, 2021 ● By Amy Kryzak
A few years ago, Janelle Hail got caught in a Dallas rainstorm. From the shelter of her car, she called her son, whose home was close to her own, and asked him whether he thought it was safe for her to drive home. He told her not to risk it, that hail was moving in and she’d be safer away from the house.
As Mrs. Hail evaluated her options, she looked up toward the ominous clouds overhead. And that’s when she saw it: a small patch of clear, open sky. Mrs. Hail drove toward that patch and followed it all the way home. “It took me longer to get there,” she recalls, “but it got me home safely.”
Following the open sky is a theme that has repeated itself throughout Mrs. Hail’s life. When dark clouds loom – be they fear, a medical diagnosis or another crisis – Mrs. Hail has learned to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, identify the open sky in the situation and take action in that direction.
In 1980, Mrs. Hail experienced such a storm. At just 34 years old, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. With three young boys (then ages 3, 10 and 13) at home, an extremely challenging aspect of her experience was managing the fear of the unknown as well as that of her own mortality. But as she walked through diagnosis and treatment, she recalls that one thing she didn’t have to fear was the financial cost of her breast cancer treatment. Being blessed with good health insurance allowed her to receive a diagnosis at an early stage of the disease and covered much of the costs involved with her treatment.
However, after experiencing breast cancer as a patient and connecting with others who were undergoing treatment, Mrs. Hail realized that not all women are as lucky as she was to have the financial piece of a breast diagnosis and treatment in place. She says she began to “feel the call of God on (her) heart to help the poor and needy” as she and her husband, Neal Hail, “realized (they) needed to do something to help these women” who were struggling with the cost of care.
That pull on the Hails’ hearts – paired with much research, training and hard work – led the couple to found the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) in 1991, 11 years after Mrs. Hail’s breast cancer diagnosis.
Also that year, the Hails moved to the Dallas area from West Texas to provide their fledgling organization with a solid foundation. Mrs. Hail recalls thinking, “If we’re going to have (NBCF) grow, we’ve got to get to where the action is. We’ve got to get to Dallas,” where the opportunities and resources available would allow the organization to have the largest impact on women nationwide.
The Hails eventually decided to settle their family in the then-small city of Frisco, which she describes as “a really natural and good place to bring up children and live in. So, we moved our home here and wanted to have our work in the same place. We have loved Frisco. It’s an amazing city. … Our hearts are here in Frisco.”
NBCF truly is a family affair, envisioned by the Hails on the heels of her breast cancer diagnosis. During its early days, the couple and their sons traveled around the United States, meeting and partnering with hospitals and corporations to build the organization.
Over the years, several Hail family members have been integrally involved in the organization. Mr. Hail passed away in 2018, leaving a legacy of vision. Mrs. Hail continues to serve as NBCF’s CEO while her son Kevin Hail serves as its president and COO. Before his passing in 2019, son Brent Hail served as senior vice president of development.
This strong foundation, rooted in family, is a cornerstone of NBCF’s success. “Every storm that comes along in life, we are not shaken off of that foundation because we are solid,” Mrs. Hail says, “which is why we’ve been able to withstand everything that has come our way.”
Celebrating its 30th year
of helping women and their caregivers navigate breast cancer, NBCF’s mission is to “provide help and inspire hope to those affected by breast cancer through early detection, education and support services.” This includes providing life-saving diagnostic care (including mammograms and screenings) to women in need, offering in-person and virtual support groups nationwide, tending to the physical needs of women undergoing treatment through distribution of its HOPE Kits, providing community outreach and educational materials and, above all, supporting women emotionally as they battle for their lives by instilling a sense of hope in their journey.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, According to NBCF, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women (outside of skin cancers), and one in eight will be diagnosed with the disease in her lifetime. The organization explains that early detection and treatment is key to positive patient outcomes.
It also understands that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the already challenging nature of diagnosing and treating breast cancer more complicated. “During ([the pandemic), many appointments were delayed,” Mrs. Hail says. “With breast cancer, delaying is (the difference between) life and death sometimes. … At one point, from March to June 2020, 90 percent of women didn’t get their mammograms.” Now, NBCF “anticipates a great influx of more breast cancer found at later stages because women couldn’t get in” for screenings due to appointment delays, fears of contracting COVID-19, stresses on finances or other circumstances related to the pandemic.
However, Mrs. Hail is hopeful as she explains that NBCF is well positioned to help women. “We’re grateful that we grew during (the pandemic) and were able to preserve funds to address needs as they come in.”
Quickly adjusting to a new set of needs, NBCF has gone beyond providing care for breast health and breast cancer. “When we first started dealing with the effects of COVID, we realized people were having problems in a lot of different areas, not just breast cancer,” she says. “So that’s when we started the COVID-19 Fund, and we’ve given over $100,000 with that. People were struggling so much with transportation to appointments, hiring babysitters (to care for children during appointments), if they needed a little help with some of their bills, we could step in a little bit there. We helped 300 patients with over 1,500 services during that time. It’s a specialty fund and we’ve been happy to help.”
During its 30-year history, NBCF has provided more than 305,000 screenings and diagnostic breast cancer services to women in need. The screenings are vital to catch breast cancer in its early stages. In addition, NBCF employs patient navigators to help women through every step of their journey. They “guide patients through and around barriers in the complex cancer-care system to help ensure timely diagnosis, treatment and support,” including patient education, financial assistance, treatment support and emotional support. To date, NBCF has provided 1.7 million patient navigation services to women throughout the country.
Looking around NBCF’s new Frisco headquarters near Gaylord Parkway and the Dallas North Tollway, where the organization relocated earlier this year, there is no mistaking its heart and motivation. Its core values and mission statement are literally written on the walls of the office. Everything, including the office space, “tells the story of who we are. Our staff sees it all the time and they live it,” Mrs. Hail says.
In addition to its 37 staff members, numerous consultants and interns, NBCF also relies on community volunteers to help women nationwide. Local volunteers frequently gather at NBCF headquarters to pack HOPE Kits – containing such comfort items as fuzzy socks, lotion, lip balm and journaling materials – that are sent to women undergoing cancer treatment. Volunteers also pack breast health kits for community outreach events and write encouragement cards for women fighting cancer. (Information about NBCF’s volunteer opportunities is available at nbcf.org.)
Of its support and encouragement endeavors, Mrs. Hail says, “We address the emotions as well as the physical needs (of women). Emotions are such an important part of every single thing we do that we can’t set them aside. Clinically, the doctors address the medical (concerns), but they don’t give you advice on how to live your life. We realize you have to inspire hope, and that’s part of our mission to help women now. Even in the worst circumstances, there’s hope.”
When dark clouds and storms in life gather, finding a bit of open sky – and hope – is vital. “When you have one billowing black cloud after another, you have to keep looking at the good and the positive and keep searching for your goal and your mission. Get your focus on where you’re going. One way or another you’re going to get there,” Mrs. Hail says. “Hope is the spirit and nature of NBCF.”
Amy Kryzak is a wife, mom and blogger who loves connecting fellow moms, food in all shapes and forms and loves all things Frisco.