It’s the diagnosis no one wants to hear: ”You’ve got cancer.” And yet so many of us know someone who’s suffering or has been slain by it, while the number of cancer-related deaths continues to grow around the world.
Sixteen years ago the Charter of Paris was signed on February 4, 2000, establishing World Cancer Day as a way to keep cancer prevention and research top of mind for everyone around the globe. Worldwide, the biggest cancer killers are lung cancer (1.6M deaths in 2012), liver cancer (745k), stomach cancer (720k), colorectal cancer (700k), and breast cancer (521k).
In 2008, the total economic impact of cancer worldwide was $895 billion, which doesn’t include the direct costs of treating cancer. For perspective, this is 1.5% of the world’s GDP. And the number of cancer-related deaths is expected to double over the next twenty years. But don’t despair! While these statistics are grim, there are many people who are lending a helping hand to those who are suffering.
In honor of World Cancer Day, we reached out to an organization where every day is Cancer Day–Cleaning for a Reason, a non-profit foundation based in Texas that has provided free cleaning services for over 20,000 women undergoing cancer treatment since 2006. Cleaning for a Reason matches women battling any type of cancer with cleaning services across the U.S. and Canada based on their zip code, and the cleaning services provide free general house cleaning once a month for four months. The value of these donated services is over $5.5M and rising.
We spoke with Stacey Schwinghammer, one of Cleaning for a Reason’s cancer patients who was “thrilled to have the help.” She just got her third diagnosis and is undergoing chemo. “It’s seven to ten days of not feeling good, then another seven to ten days before the next treatment. You don’t realize how tired you are, how the little things all build up. Cleaning for a Reason was helpful both physically and emotionally. The first thing they ask is, ‘How are you doing?’ and you get a hug. You get the same person each time and they take care of all your needs. One woman worked overtime, saying ‘I’m not leaving until I get this bathroom cleaned!’”
Cleaning for a Reason was founded by Debbie Sardone, whose mom is a survivor of ovarian cancer. Sardone ran her own cleaning business for several years before starting the non-profit. She got the idea when a woman called to get a quote for a cleaning services but said she couldn’t afford it because she was going through chemotherapy and not working. After hanging up, Sardone said, “I realized I missed an opportunity to give her a cleaning for free. I started giving away cleanings to cancer patients as company policy after that.”
While running her own business, Sardone also did a lot of consulting and training for cleaning companies and she shared this free cleaning policy with others when she was speaking at a conference. “I was surprised by how many business owners came up after the talk to find out how to do this, how to screen patients and not be taken advantage of.” That was her aha moment, and she started the foundation soon after, to help with the administrative aspect of connecting cleaners to cancer patients.
Lynn Frankenfield is the foundation’s executive director who ended up working for the organization as a way to honor her 83 year old mother, a two time cancer survivor. “She got a lease on life twice… which made me want to find an organization to work for where I could help women that are battling cancer.” Frankenfield leads a dynamic and small team who all do a little bit of everything. “There’s six of us. The entire staff can fit in a minivan.
Currently, the foundation is on the lookout for new cleaning services to help with the demand. Frankenfield emphasized that one of the hidden benefits for cleaning services is that it increases the retention of their staff. “Who doesn’t want to work for a company that is paying it forward for women in their community?” Cleaning companies also benefit from the additional paid work from word of mouth referrals to friends and families from enthusiastic beneficiaries of Cleaning for a Reason’s services. One client recently told Frankenfield, “As soon as I get back on my feet I’m definitely going to hire this service.” Something that we keep saying over and over was confirmed by Frankenfield, “Many people like to hire companies that are giving back to their communities.”
While she’s stronger now, Schwinghammer discovered that she took little things for granted before she got sick. “Reaching for a cup of coffee, really reaching for anything after surgeries & fatigue was tough. It was great to have someone there to help.” She keeps up a positive attitude, joking about her latest surgery by saying “Third time’s a charm!” For others who are going through treatment, she advises, “It’s ok to ask for help. You need the support around you. Going through chemo is both physical and emotional.”
Schwinghammer even helps out at the foundation office when she’s feeling strong enough, writing their newsletter and talking to patients and cleaners. “It’s nice to talk to someone who’s going through what you’re going through… Although this time, I didn’t lose my hair.” The best part for her is talking to a cleaning service after they’ve done their first cleaning for a cancer patient. “They always say they had no idea how rewarding it would be!”
This dedicated team of six women helps cancer patients keep a clean home during a time when they need the most assistance. To help contribute to this cause, you can donate here. Fittingly for the color of breast cancer awareness, the entire staff normally dresses in pink. Frankenfield said, “Everybody needs a little pink in their life.”