It’s an all-too-common dilemma for cancer patients: How am I going to pay the bills?

“If I have cancer and can’t work ... that’s a loss of income and I can’t pay the electric bill,” said Kim Paratore, the executive director of Grateful Friends.

Patients are also often faced with expensive health insurance deductibles to cover the cost of treatments and medication.

“We see patients who end up paying insurance bills over other bills, like their mortgage,” Paratore said.

These types of struggles were only exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it only highlighted the need for an organization like the Beverly-based nonprofit, which provides financial assistance and comfort baskets to adults in Essex and Middlesex counties who are undergoing cancer treatment.

Grateful Friends hired Paratore as executive director in September 2020, making her the organization’s first employee since it was founded six years ago by friends Gwen Ryan, of Gloucester, and Lee Miraglia, of Peabody.

In late 2014, Ryan and Miraglia were both diagnosed with cancer — Ryan with breast cancer and Miraglia with lung cancer. In the wake of their successful treatments, they resolved to try to help other cancer patients who may not be so fortunate to have a strong support network, good health insurance or the financial resources to keep up with the avalanche of bills.

Paratore, who lives in Beverly and lost her husband to cancer in 2012, was working as a fundraising consultant for what was an all-volunteer-run group.

Grateful Friends has an annual budget of about $150,000, Paratore said. Each month, it awards about $5,000 in financial assistance and distributes 10 to 20 comfort baskets to cancer patients. In an interview this summer, she noted that there were 8,000 cancer patients in Essex County and 11,000 in Middlesex County.

The nonprofit also built up a board of directors over the summer — there are now a dozen members — and Leslie Ray Insurance Agency, a big supporter, has given the group some office space inside the firm’s office on Dodge Street.

In regard to cancer patients’ mounting bills, Grateful Friends enters the scene by awarding grants of up to $750 per person to directly pay some of those bills — whether that’s accumulated taxi fares, rent or utility bills.

Paratore connects with social workers at local hospitals — including Lahey Medical Center in Peabody, Beverly Hospital, Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester and Mass General/North Shore Cancer Center in Danvers — who then refer patients who need assistance to directly apply or file applications on their behalf.

The other program they offer is comfort baskets for cancer patients. Each basket is filled with about $125 worth of items specific to each patient’s diagnosis and treatment. For example, Paratore said, a breast cancer patient who is undergoing chemotherapy is likely to lose her eyebrows and hair, so she might receive an eyebrow pencil and scarf in her basket. Or there might be a bathrobe for the patient to wear while in the hospital.

These patients are also nominated by others to receive a basket, but it’s not based on financial need.

For the past year, Paratore and the board members would put together the comfort baskets. Now, she said, that job is being taken over by a student at Manchester Essex Regional High School for his DECA project.

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