We had the good fortune of connecting with Haley Pollack and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Haley, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
When I was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer at 37, I was terrified. I had a 6 month old baby and 3 year old at home. I had just returned from my parental leave to a demanding job. I didn’t know anyone who was in a similar situation. I was always the youngest person at the cancer center and despite my best efforts, I felt myself falling through the cracks with medical social workers. I was scared and I couldn’t find the tools that I needed to help my very little kids through my cancer diagnosis. New parenthood and cancer are both very isolating but taken together, this was just too much to handle. I am endlessly thankful to the medical practitioner who had the foresight to connect me and Aimee Barnes, another mom navigating parenting through cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Aimee and I connected about all of the ways our lives were changing. We talked about our kids, our partners, or our professional life — it was so good to talk to someone who was struggling with similar issues in their life and who “got it.” Our conversations often came back to the gaps in resources for young parents, the financial stress of cancer and parenthood, how to talk to kids about cancer… and why there wasn’t an organization doing this work.

Bright Spot Network (BSN) was born out of those conversations. Aimee and I co-founded BSN to help fill a resource gap for young parents navigating a cancer diagnosis.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
We founded Bright Spot Network in November 2019 and I stepped in as the Executive Director, and first full-time staff member, in May 2021 (1.5 years after our initial launch). It was a leap, to be sure. I left my secure job that I actually really liked but I was being pulled to the cancer world both because of my own experience but also because I was seeing more and more friends and acquaintances getting diagnosed with cancer and experiencing a similar sense of isolation that I had seen myself.

Bright Spot Network is the only national non-profit dedicated to the needs of families where a primary caregiver, like a parent, has been diagnosed with cancer while raising small children. The only age group where cancer is on the rise is among those 20-39, in the prime of their child-bearing years. Parents of young kids have enough to worry about — balancing work, getting dinner on the table, bedtime — without a cancer diagnosis. Parenting with and through cancer treatment is, well, a lot. Having experienced this all myself, I knew in my gut that this was the right move for me.

Since stepping in as the ED we’ve been able to grow and expand our programs. We have a small grant program for families in financial need, we have free age-appropriate kids books on big emotions, cancer, and grief, a free art box designed for kids of parents with cancer in mind, support groups, web resources, and more. All of our programs are free and come from the needs of the Bright Spot Network community.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I live in Oakland, California. The Bay Area is an amazing place to visit and we love living here. Here are some of our favorite spots.

Lindsey Wildlife Experience: This a wildlife rescue, hospital and museum. My kids love seeing the animals up close. My older kid is excited to be a Lindsey Wildlife volunteer when she is in middle school. You can even pet a porcupine!

Oakland Museum of California: I love this museum — California history, art, and natural science. The exhibits are awesome, and even keep my kids interested. Pre-pandemic OMCA closed off the block, invited food trucks and played music. So fun.

Troll walk in Dimond Canyon: In the East Oakland hills the Dimond Canyon trail is littered with trolls! Such a fun time to hike with kids and try to see as many as you can.

Oakland Public Library, Dimond Branch… we love our local library and we are SO glad that it is back open!

Sequoia Diner: A delicious brunch and lunch spot in the Laurel District of Oakland.

Hive the Place to Bee: Lots of weekend mornings start at this sweet coffee shop before we go and play at Dimond Park.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Here are 3 organizations that I admire and met through my own cancer diagnosis and through the Bright Spot Network:

Mighty & Bright: Sara Olsher founded an organization dedicated to helping kids get through some of the toughest challenges, from a parent’s cancer diagnosis to navigating parents’ divorce. Sara’s book Cancer Party! is one of our most popular books in our Bright Reads program. It does an incredible job of helping families translate a cancer diagnosis (through science and biology!) to young kids. A cancer survivor and parent herself, I love what she is putting out into the world!

For the Breast of Us: This org was founded to create a space for breast cancer patients and survivors of color. Despite lower rates of diagnosis but higher mortality rates among black women, women of color are often wildly underrepresented in images of cancer patients as well as in cancer trials. For the Breast of Us is doing incredible work to build community, lift up the stories of women of color, advocate for survivors of color, and highlight the of importance representation.

Wildfire Magazine: This literary magazine was founded by April Stearns, a breast cancer survivor (diagnosed as a young parent herself) to create a magazine by and for those “too young to be diagnosed with breast cancer.” Wildfire offers writing workshops and the magazine is full of beautiful writing and images. We are lucky to work with April Stearns and, survivor and writer, Mary Ladd through leading writing workshops for parents in the Bright Spot Network community. We are always floored by what they bring to the table. Helping participants to find the words to express some of their most difficult moments.

Website: www.brightspotnetwork.org

Instagram: @brightspotnetwork

Facebook: facebook.com/brightspotnetwork

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