By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
GateHouse News Service
Posted Oct 26, 2012 @ 09:45 AM

For cancer patients like Mary Anne Donnellan, just vacuuming the living room rug can seem as challenging as a triathlon. While cancer treatments can bring healing, the methods are often a relentless drain on a patient, leaving little energy for anything but the most necessary tasks. And as hard as it is to work at recovery, many cancer patients find the task even more difficult when they cannot avoid looking at a dirty kitchen floor or an untidy bathroom they want to clean.

So when women like Donnellan hear about Cleaning for a Reason, professional housecleaning services that are donated to women with cancer, they are thrilled. Local business owner, Karen Bickford, president and owner of The Cleaning Advantage in Bolton, has been a Cleaning for a Reason partner for several years and has eased the minds and cleaned the homes of 22 cancer patients.

Donnellan, a Sudbury resident undergoing treatment for stage 4 pancreatic cancer, said the services result in a clean house, but they offer so much more, including a feeling of being cared for.

“You need a lot of that when you have cancer,” she said, “because you are kind of hanging out there raw.”

“Housecleaning in itself is tough when you feel well, let alone when you are not feeling well,” said Bickford. “This is generally for people who wouldn’t ordinarily pay for the service. Housekeeping is not in their budget. This is a great way to give back.”

The Cleaning Advantage now donates four or five cleaning packages per year to women with cancer. Bickford said she would like to donate up to eight a year and wants people to know the service is out there, and that, “The peace of mind it brings to patients is priceless,” she said.

The benefits of having a clean home to live in when you are sick cannot be understated. For women used to keeping everything in proper order, the disarray that can come with treatment is unnerving. But there are also real physical benefits.

“When you are going through chemo, your immune system is compromised, so it is important that you are in a clean environment,” said Bickford.

Her staff touches upon everything in the home, with special attention to disinfecting surfaces and germy spots. Between pushing vacuums, scrubbing floors and bathrooms, cleaning woodwork and counter tops, housecleaning is exhausting and physically challenging. Often, cleaning products are also problematic. The cleaning agents used by The Cleaning Advantage do not leave a chemical scent that could make a scent-averse chemo patient feel even sicker. Patients can choose to remain home while the cleaners work, said Bickford, or sometimes they schedule doctor’s appointments at the same time so they can arrive home to a clean house.

Cleaning for those who can’t

As a Cleaning for a Reason partner, The Cleaning Advantage donates three hours of cleaning per month for a total of four months. Without the donated services, the cost to the client would total $420. Bickford said she tries to work within a 10 to 15 mile radius of Bolton and enjoys helping local women who request this service. Only a handful of other cleaning services in the area offer Cleaning for a Reason services.

Often, the woman will find Cleaning for a Reason through the recommendations of doctors or care providers, and each patient’s doctor has to sign off on the request. But sometimes, it is the patient’s family who calls and asks for help, knowing the patient is unlikely to do so, said Bickford. For these women, said Bickford, a clean home is one less worry and one less reminder they are sick. If they have people visit, they want their home to look nice and if they cannot do it themselves, they are thrilled to have someone else who can.

“They cannot thank me enough,” said Bickford of the women she talks to after her employees clean a home.

One of Bickford’s clients in Acton, who preferred to remain unidentified, started using Cleaning for a Reason this year when her chemotherapy treatments made cleaning an impossible task.

“I can Swiffer the floor, but I can’t get down on my hands and knees and scrub the bathroom,” she said. “I don’t have the strength for that.”

Because her energy fluctuates, her cleaning could not be as vigorous as before.

“It was disconcerting,” she said. By having cleaning services donated, she finds it easier to keep up with the smaller tasks and let the pros take on the larger tasks.  “It is so generous,” she said. “They are fantastic people.”

Donnellan agrees, noting that although her daughter never complained about taking over cleaning her mom’s house, Donnellan felt bad about it. Having someone else come in was a relief to her in many ways.

An idea that is catching on

With headquarters in Lewisville, Texas, Cleaning for a Reason partners with more than 1,000 cleaning services across the country and, to date, has donated 11,000 free cleanings valued at about $2.9 million, said founder Debbie Sardone. One day, Sardone recalls, a woman called Sardone’s cleaning company to ask about housecleaning prices. When the woman said she could not afford it and was undergoing cancer treatment, the call ended. In a flash, Sardone said she wondered why she didn’t offer to have the company clean the woman’s house for free.

“It was the result of a missed opportunity to help another human being,” she said of the beginnings of her nonprofit.

From that day on, Sardone implemented a company-wide policy to offer free cleanings to cancer patients, and the idea spread as she moved into business consulting and shared the idea with other companies.

Six years ago, Sardone officially founded Cleaning for a Reason as a nonprofit. With corporate sponsors like Hoover and Swiffer and individual donations, women with cancer are getting a break. But Sardone wants this to become an industry-wide cause, with all maid services offering it as part of a company policy.

On the surface, the clean house feels good for the patient and a business is able to offer the important service. But both sides say the compassion is what comes forth and lasts longer than a sparkly sink.

“It is such a good feeling to help out this way,” said Bickford.

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