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Tackling a tiring household
chore. By Sally Friedman For The
Wed, Nov. 19, 2008
McCleary can remember the precise moment her life began unraveling.
It was the morning of Oct. 8, 2007, and while thinking about a
colleague who had just died of breast cancer, she felt a pain in her
right breast. "This has to be my imagination," she recalls thinking.
"I'm totally fine."
But at home later that day,
she felt a lump in her right breast, and at age 28, entered an
unknown, unwelcome universe. The very next day, she saw a breast
surgeon and went through several diagnostic procedures. The verdict:
She had an aggressive form of breast cancer and needed equally
"It was devastating, it was
horrible, but I was determined to deal with it," said McCleary, a
project manager for Philadelphia Sign Co. "My mind kicked into
business mode. I even kept a log of what was happening medically. It
was my way of coping."
What she hadn't expected
was the debilitating fatigue she would experience as she underwent
It was during this period
that McCleary heard about an organization offering free
housecleaning services to cancer patients in treatment. Once a month
for four months, companies affiliated with a national organization
called Cleaning for a Reason Foundation would give women battling
cancer one less thing to worry about.
All that was required was a
medical confirmation that cancer treatment was underway.
At first, McCleary resisted
the notion of getting housecleaning help. "I felt guilty - I was
young, and I should be strong enough to take care of my own
townhouse," she reasoned. But as chemotherapy sapped her energy,
McCleary's cozy Delran space didn't seem as small and manageable as
it had before.
"Even vacuuming can be
exhausting," she said. "But looking around at a mess can feel pretty
Enter Raylene Arko,
president of Keep It Clean With Raylene Inc., a Port Richmond
cleaning service that in 2007 had become a local affiliate of the
Texas-based Cleaning for a Reason Foundation.
A former real estate
saleswoman and then home rehabber who offered cleaning services
occasionally, Arko, the mother of two young sons, found that the
"on-the-side" cleaning business was becoming quite
That's when she decided to
start her own cleaning company, which now has about 200 clients -
mostly in Center City, Society Hill and Northern Liberties - and a
staff of 14.
Arko had some deeply
personal reasons for wanting to support the Cleaning for a Reason
Foundation. "My own mother is a cancer survivor, and my father
recently passed away from lung cancer. I've seen what the disease
does to families and how it disrupts life. Doing something to help
was very important to me."
The foundation was created
in 2006 by Deborah Sardone, a veteran of the residential cleaning
industry and president and CEO of her own company, Buckets and Bows
Maid Service, in Lewisville, Texas. Sardone had long donated
cleaning services on an informal basis to women in need, and she
recognized the urgency of their situations.
Reaching out to her
colleagues across the country, Sardone created the foundation, which
now has more than 360 partners - as participating cleaning services
are called - in 38 states. They pledge not only to offer free
services to women in treatment for cancer of any type, but also to
support the foundation with modest contributions - between $20 and
$50 a month, although smaller cleaning services can pay less - to
help defray its operating expenses. Since the organization's launch,
1,044 women have been helped. Eleven affiliated cleaning services
are in the Philadelphia area, including Warrington-based Do You Need
Me? Cleaning Professionals.
Owner Renee Rawcliffe, 53,
was diagnosed with cancer last year after becoming a Cleaning for a
Reason partner in 2006.
"I can honestly say that I
understand what my clients in cancer treatment are going through,"
she said. "And I know that what I do helps them, but it also really
On a recent morning,
McCleary greeted Arko with a hug. During the time Arko has worked
with her, McCleary has had a double mastectomy to halt the advance
of cancer in her right breast and to prevent the disease from
invading her left breast.
Now that McCleary is
finishing the last treatment - postsurgical radiation - she has once
again welcomed the "clean team" into her home.
While there have been
well-meaning friends and family members who have steadfastly
supported McCleary, the cheerful and determined young woman couldn't
imagine asking them to come and clean for her.
"I'm a Type A - I like to
do things on my own, take charge, push on," said McCleary. "But I
can't even put into words how much the help from this foundation has
meant to me."
On this fall morning, with
company helper Teresa Miller, Arko deftly moved through the upstairs
bedroom and bathroom, living room, dining room and kitchen. Surfaces
were scrubbed, appliances cleaned to a gleam, floors vacuumed or
scrubbed hands-and-knees style. And McCleary just kept
"The reaction of all the
patients we see is pure gratitude," said Arko. "Many times, these
women also are so lonely and isolated that just having us around can
be a big boost. And it's a joy for us to see how much pleasure we
can bring by some cleaning and polishing."
Typically, Keep It Clean
With Raylene sends two cleaners for two hours to each cancer
patient, translating to about $128 worth of services. And while her
company works in many homes of people not dealing with cancer, it is
her involvement with the national foundation that brings her the
Arko recalls working with a
mother of five who was unfailingly upbeat, always expressing her
gratitude for the housecleaning. In the course of the relationship,
the patient died.
Arko still returned to the
home to deliver the last of the woman's four free cleanings - and to
help out the widowed husband. As she cleaned and straightened, she
discovered a pile of birthday cards, carefully signed with messages
from the mother for all of her children's next
"She knew she wouldn't be
around for those birthdays, and she wanted those kids to have the
cards. It was so enormously moving to us," said Arko. "And when you
experience things like that, it puts everything else into