A Tale of Two Patients

Wealthy breast cancer patient took action after meeting others who couldn't afford treatment.
7:37 | 10/01/13

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Transcript for A Tale of Two Patients
Test Text1 plain Discussing the new health care law which has paralyzed the government both sides claim to be protecting those who can't afford health insurance. But there is no debate that those with money tend to get better medical care even when talking about life threatening diseases. That's what spurred one wealthy breast cancer survivor into action. As my "nightline" co-anchor cynthia McFadden reports she invested in a dedicated doctor and a cause to save others far less fortunate. Reporter: She was 38 when she found out she had stage 2 breast cancer. The divorced mother of two young sons she pulled herself out of poverty and made a fortune on wall street. How did you make the decision to have a double mastectomy? I was told my chances are better having a double mastectomy. I said you do the most radical treatment possible. I want to be around for my boys. Reporter: As dede fought for her life she took on a fate to help poor women have the chance for a cure that she did. That battle was at the heart of the hbo documentary, the edge kae -- education of dee dee ricks. I felt it was my obligation to give back. Reporter: One week after a double mastectomy, dee dee travels from her penthouse apartment to harlem a world away to meet with renowned surgeon dr. Harold freeman. I really was going to come and cut cancer out of harlem. But cancer wouldn't yield to the knife. Why? Because the people were poor, uninsured and coming in too late for surgery to be the main answer. Reporter: If you see a breast cancer in a woman early, you can almost always cure it at this point? Early breast cancer, the earliest stages of breast cancer, are curable almost to 100%. Late breast cancer, people die from it at nearly 100%. Reporter: A shocking reality brought home to dee dee at their first meeting when dr. Freeman tells her he is struggling to raise $2.5 million or lose a vital pledge of the same amount. I will get you your money. Oh, my god. I am going to get for it you in the next couple months, dr. Freeman. The fact that you have to go out and raise $2.5 million is a disgrace. You will get your $2.5 million. You are going to get a lot more. Thank you. Reporter: How much money have you given to all of this? Lots personally as well? Personally, I have given -- a little over seven figures. Reporter: Wow. That's putting your money where your mouth is? And you have raised? We are coming in for all of the efforts that, since being diagnosed at about $10.3 million. Reporter:10.3 million. The best thing that ever happened to me was cancer because it opened up to all the suffering that's going on in this world. And I want to make a difference. Reporter: Something else important happened up in harlem, an otherwise unlikely friendship that opened her heart and broke it. A tale of two cities in a way. What can happen to two different women with the same disease in the same city. Hi, guys. Reporter: Dr. Freeman introduces dee dee to cynthia dodson, diagnosed late with stage four breast cancer so often the case when women are uninsured. I am supposed to die because I wasn't born with a silver spoon, I am sa petzed to die, you have to come in wi-- supposed to die, you have to come in with the attitude, I have cancer but I am not trying to die. Reporter: Out of her own pocket, dee dee paid for cynthia's care. It was too late. The disease that brought them together ultimately separated them. Cynthia died at age 44. It's not acceptable that women die of breast cancer or -- or -- because they're poor. And because they're uninsured. We can fix that america. Dee dee ricks is here. Reporter: Two years after the documentary aired, dee dee and dr. Freeman are here in harlem doing that. Reporter: Two years later you are still together? Yes, we are. Yes, we are. I think we will be together the rest of our lives. Reporter: Today they're at an organization called strive which aims to put folks in the neighborhood back to work. You are also giving back and saving lives. Reporter: She raised an additional $2 million to train people like these to become patient navigators. Something dr. Freeman pioneered more than 20 years ago. You really started the first effective national navigator system? We have a national hearings in 1989, while I was president of the cancer society. We saw that this was a universal problem. Poor people meet barriers when they try to get into and through this very complex health care system. So we invented this thing, called patient navigation. It begin to work. We changed the five-year survival rate in harlem from breast cancer from 39% to 70%. By two interventions, screening, and patient navigation. Reporter: Dee dee knows firsthand the difference a navigator can make. When her friend and makeup artist, val dees was diagnosed with breast cancer. Dee dee stepped in. The doctor wanted to put me on a drug, a brand new drug. It was not approved yet. The insurance denied it. Reporter: How expensive was the drug? 6,000. Reporter: Per treatment. She ended up getting the medication. Reporter: You can't do this for everybody. Even though I know you wish you could. So really the navigators become a whole lot of dee dees makes your hand go further and dr. Freeman's too. Reporter: Like here at harlem hospital. Sheila santa ana believes she wouldn't have had the strength to get through the system without her patient navigator patricia montanyes. They have enough, if you ask me, to deal with knowing they have cancer. Make their appointments. Make sure the results come in on time. What her, I don't think i would have been able to make it this far as I have come. And now I am cancer-free. So that makes it even better. Over the next three years we will train over 5,000 people with the skills necessary to be a navigator. And a third of whom must be unemployed. So not only are we saving lives we are putting our country back to work. Reporter: And just this spring, dee dee went through another life changing event with dr. Freeman at her side. You have gotten married, dee dee in the last two years. I was very honored that dr. Freeman gave me away. I have never given any one away before. So and to give her away was a real honor for me. But it was dee dee's youngest son, jordan who reminded them just what dr. Freeman had done for their family. He realized that dr. Freeman had saved me emotionally and mentally and given me a purpose

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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