NASHVILLE, Tenn — A mammogram confirmed one of Kelly Modena's biggest fears after she found a lump during a breast self-exam in May.
The mother of two was diagnosed with stage one invasive ductal carcinoma—a decade after losing her own sister to breast cancer.
"I was with my mom and trying to be strong, but it was still devastating," Modena said. "At the time I wasn't sure if there was some gene that I carried, and I have two daughters, seven and nine. So, they were the first thing on my mind."
Modena also worried about the high cost of treatment and a mountain of medical bills ahead.
"Just them drawing blood each time is $350, and that's after insurance," Modena said. "That's the smallest bill that I have. So with it all adding up, it's completely overwhelming financially."
Her best friend, Ellen Hollis, knew she needed support.
"She's so humble. She would never talk about it, and so I think it's really hard for her to accept help because she's such a giver," Hollis said.
So Hollis stepped in, using a first-of-its-kind platform to raise money specifically for healthcare-related expenses.
CaringWays, based in Nashville, partners directly with healthcare systems and businesses all over the country, helping patients with everything from unexpected medical bills to mental health treatment.
In a matter of weeks, Kelly's campaign has raised more than $22,000.
The donations have helped her buy groceries, afford childcare and even pay for wigs after she lost her hair.
42% of new cancer patients deplete their entire life savings during the first two years of treatment, according to a study in the American Journal of Medicine.
Kelly's Cancer Journey
More than half of U.S. adults report they have gone into debt because of medical bills in the past five years.
CEO Wes Sellers co-founded CaringWays following his late father's own expensive fight with cancer.
"We realized that there were other crowdfunding platforms are out there, and they raise money for medical, but there's not a lot of trust baked into it," Sellers said. "Our thought was if we built a platform where loved ones could give and their extended friends could give, but we showed them that the funding would go to pre-qualified expenses, we just felt like more people would want to give, and then those walking through the tough times would have greater peace of mind."
Once a CaringWays campaign is created the patient gets a care card that functions like a health savings account.
Money is preloaded onto the card and can only be spent on approved expenses like medical bills, prescriptions and even grocery delivery to aid in a recipient's recovery.
The crowdfunding platform has helped patients with more than $1 million in bills.
"It just made me trust the process and know that people were trusting how I was going to spend the money as well," Modena said.
It's helped Kelly focus on getting healthy and spending more time with her daughters which she said would not have been possible without CaringWays.
"It has made me sleep at night knowing that all of my medical bills are paid for," Modena said.
CaringWays also partners with a non-profit organization to help match campaign donations and make them tax-deductible.