February 26, 2010

'The Maids' to give cancer sufferers a clean house

— There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but what about free housecleaning?

Ask anyone slogging through a series of cancer treatments to choose between a free lunch and housecleaning, and odds are the latter will be chosen.

Thanks to the national nonprofit Cleaning for a Reason, a limited number of female cancer sufferers in our community will soon be eligible for free housecleaning through The Maids, a local cleaning service.

The Maids is a national franchise with a Portland office serving southern Maine from Kennebunk to Brunswick. Franchise owners Sally and Dan Libby heard about doing pro bono housecleaning for cancer patients and decided to approach Cleaning for a Reason, based in Texas, about becoming a charter partner. Since its inception in 2006, there are now 600 partners nationwide and others in five Canadian provinces.

''We heard about it through other franchise owners,'' Sally Libby said. ''We've been a partner since November, but have yet to do a Cleaning for a Reason home.''

It's true volunteerism. Libby's franchise receives no compensation for partnering with Cleaning for a Reason, nor do they expect any reimbursement from the patients they serve. With a staff of 12 and a list of some 80-plus clients already on their schedule, Libby says The Maids are undeterred. In fact they're happy to be a part of such a worthy charitable endeavor. Figuring out logistics and potential conflicts with other established paying clients is seen as a minor, trivial detail.

''We want to do this so patients can focus on their health,'' she said.

Anyone who's been through cancer, or has someone in the family who has, can understand how disrupting the diagnosis and resulting treatments can be. Many women are stricken with breast cancer, a type that may involve surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or elements of all three treatment regimens. Depending on circumstances, patients must travel to keep daily or weekly treatment appointments.

Chemotherapy is notorious for bringing on physical symptoms that make it hard to rise, get dressed and drive. Much less tackle any considerable housecleaning. Trying to keep up routines when they are part of a family unit with kids and a husband who must continue working can especially task mothers with cancer.

Under Cleaning for a Reason, The Maids will offer four free cleanings to female cancer patients, once a month, for four months. Cleaning for a Reason limits partners to serving no more than two patients at any given time. More are added as clients finish up their four visits.

''We will clean the home until the job is done,'' said Libby. ''We send a team of four people. It may take up to three hours per visit.''

It's a concentrated effort. From top to bottom, baseboards, windowsills, picture frames, kitchen cabinets, appliances, and all floors get washed or vacuumed. A ''bathroom specialist'' gets on his or her hands and knees with a toothbrush to scrub items like door hinges and plumbing fixtures.

''It's very, very detailed,'' Libby said.

Cleanliness can be especially important for cancer patients trying to steer clear of secondary infections while suffering a compromised immune system due to chemotherapy sessions.

The Libbys say they can relate to the disruptions cancer can bring to a family. Parents on each side of their family have suffered the disease.

''We really have a heart and soul for cleaning,'' said Libby. ''We want to share this with the women of our community during a difficult season in their life.''

Perspective Cleaning for a Reason clients must fill out an application online. Because of demand, applications are limited to certain hours Monday through Thursday. Folks at the nonprofit say the program is ''growing like crazy.'' Executive Director Mike Farney said for now they can accept only 50 applications per day. ''When it goes live at noon each day, we typically get eight patient inquiries per minute on the web site. At that rate, it can fill in about six minutes.''

The idea was the brainchild of president and founder Debbie Sardone who operated Texas cleaning service Buckets & Bows Maid Service, Inc.

''She had a policy,'' Farney explained. ''If there was a woman client undergoing cancer treatment, that that person would get free cleaning. Other maid services heard about the idea and said she should start a nonprofit. It just took off from there.''

Besides The Maids covering the Greater Portland area, there are two other cleaning services in Maine partnering with the program. Other residential cleaning services are encouraged to get involved.

To find out more, visit www.cleaningforareason.org.

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at:

presswriter@gmail.com

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