When Michelle Perzan was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, she was in disbelief. Even though her mother, father, grandmother and brother had all been taken by the disease, she still couldn’t believe it when the doctor gave her the diagnosis.
Perzan had a bilateral mastectomy, but that was only the first of many surgeries she would undergo as part of her treatment. After each surgery, Perzan was incapacitated. As a mother of three young boys, the inability to carry on normal day-to-day activities was overwhelming.
“You can’t do stuff. You can't lift. You can't clean. You can't cook. You can't lift anything over five pounds,” she explained. “Essentially you can’t do anything for six weeks.”
Perzan considered herself fortunate that her husband was able to take time off work to care for her and their sons, but she couldn’t help but think about what happens to people undergoing cancer treatment who don’t have any help.
Perzan’s cancer is now in remission. After her treatment, Perzan decided to dedicate herself to helping others with some of the financial burdens that are associated with cancer treatment.
Perzan established the GEST Foundation as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that gives grants of up to $500 to individuals or families battling cancer.
The foundation is named for the family members she lost to cancer. Her mother, Gemma (G), her father, Elmer and her grandmother, Elsie (E) and her brother Steven (S) are the namesakes for the charity. The “T” stands for their last name (and Perzan’s maiden name), Trakalo. Each family member died of a different form of cancer.
The GEST Foundation offers grants to people battling all forms of cancer.
The grants may be used for anything related to the financial struggles of cancer. “When you’re getting medical treatment, it really adds up,” said Perzan. “So (the grant recipients) might need help that month for parking at MD Anderson. Parking is expensive, and it adds up day after day.
Maybe they're driving back and forth from MD Anderson or the Medical Center. They can use it for parking, grocery deliveries, home cleaning or whatever they need for that time.”
To receive a grant, applicants fill out a two page form that asks questions like the date of diagnosis and how they plan to use the grant.
If the grant is accepted, the applicants are given up to $500 to spend how they see fit. The GEST Foundation does not require its recipients to submit receipts.
“Everybody's been so grateful receiving the money that there's not a doubt in my mind that everyone who has received it needs it,” Perzan said.
Perzan doesn’t just give out grants. She first prays with the people who come to the GEST Foundation seeking help.
“We start out by reaching out to people and praying for them and lifting them up, and then they start the application process,” said Perzan.
The feedback from the community has been deeply moving for Perzan.
Recalled Perzan, “We had a woman who put in a grant for her granddaughter. The child has brain cancer, and (the grandmother) had stopped working because she's taking care of her granddaughter. And talking through tears she told us what a difference the grant made, because they weren't going to be able to pay their bills that month until they received that grant.”
The GEST Foundation has also partnered with The Ballard House, a Katy charity that provides free housing to people visiting the area for medical treatment.
“When someone stays there, The Ballard House gives out our cards and tells them about our program. So we work together to support people financially struggling because of cancer treatment,” she said.
Perzan is proud to see that word about the grants from the GEST Foundation is spreading, but more exposure means more grant requests are coming in, and the foundation is in urgent need of donations to continue giving out their grants. “I don't want to let one family go unhelped,” she said.
The foundation is a Katy-based charity, but Perzan hopes it will expand to a nationwide movement. “I feel so humbled when I see the ways we’re able to help people,” she said. “I know what they’re going through, and I know how it would have helped me.”
To learn more about the GEST Foundation, or to contribute to their cause, visit www.gestfoundation.com.