Maya Harris was living her best life as a divorced, 48-year old, working at an outpatient mental health clinic, and sharing her home with her furry companion, Zuko the Westie. She’d raised two sons, the oldest, Anthony lives and works in DC. Caleb, her youngest was leaving the nest, moving onto campus when Maya was diagnosed and their worlds changed forever.
Maya began treatment at University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center’s Tate Center. Among those on her care team was oncology social worker, Kelly Harris (no relation), Maya’s bright light in the tunnel.
“When I first got the diagnosis that I had triple negative breast cancer I was in shock. All l could think about was death and dying. Doctors were saying things that I could not compute. My brain did not function except to imagine my own funeral.
I’m normally organized and sharp, but I could hardly keep track of my own name, let alone all the information, phone calls, appointments and tests that flooded me in those first few weeks.
One day, the financial magnitude of this crisis set in. I felt myself starting to sink into a depression. That same day, I got a call from my oncology social worker. She shared the news that The Red Devils decided to provide financial support for one of the major bills coming up that week. That news was like a rope ladder flung down to lift me out of the pit of despair.
I felt so supported in that moment. I was at a point where the financial challenge was worrying me more than the fact that I had cancer.
That gift was at the right moment in my process. It let me know that I was not alone. There were women who came before me who knew what I was going through and had made it through, and were reaching back to help me. I felt hope for the first time since the diagnosis; and I have felt hopeful since.
I am forever grateful to The Red Devils for lightening the load and showing me that first glimmer of hope in my long road to healing.”
Volumes of research underscore the importance of removing obstacles and worries that disrupt a patient’s continuum of care. The value and importance of funding treatment support is something you know firsthand.
Often, we’re asked, “How do you do it – provide treatment support to so many when your staff is so small?” The answer is quite simple. Twenty years ago, our founding directors built a business model that would be powered by grassroots fundraising and rely on the field expertise of medical staff and social workers. The team at Ascension Saint Agnes Hospital Institute is one of those remarkable groups of dedicated professionals helping patients navigate the breast cancer journey.
As they see it, “Those diagnosed with breast cancer often face a myriad of challenging decisions. Not only do they worry about their health, they also worry about the wellbeing of their loved ones, keeping their jobs, and maintaining a semblance of normalcy in their households.” Those nurses and social workers witness firsthand the dilemmas and choices facing families living with breast cancer. Carolina Ramirez describes it best, “With missed work comes missed income; patients must often make decisions about what bills to pay and what groceries to buy. I am especially grateful for the flexibility offered by The Red Devils as we look to provide support.”
Last year one of their patients was experiencing debilitating neuropathy on both feet. Her breast cancer treatment side effect led to impairment in many areas of her life. In addition to medication to treat the symptom, she explored practical ways to manage in her daily life. Her search lead her to a particular pair of shoes that would be helpful. Unfortunately, financial circumstances put purchasing the shoes out of reach for Carolina’s patient.
“Thanks to the generosity of The Red Devils, we were able to purchase the shoes with this special fund! To say that the shoes made a difference in her life is an understatement. The shoes helped her greatly with her physical symptoms; however, they also helped her emotionally,” Carolina wrote.
Within a few weeks of purchasing the shoes, the St. Agnes patient called The Red Devils. It was one of those emotional calls you never forget. She shared details about her hair loss, and shrinking frame; talked about her families and the recent death of her son. Through her tears said, “You have helped me take the next step to feeling normal again.”
Thank you for being on our team! Continue making an impact now.
The Ascension Saint Agnes Hospital Institute team: Front, from left to right, Natasha Wellington, Miranda Navarro, and Wendy Brennan. Back from left to right, Carolina Ramirez, and Aleda Waters.
If you’ve ever been to one of our events – Wine Women & Shoes, the Bull and Oyster Roast, or Running with The Devils PJ5K – you might recognize her face. Alice Rhodes is one of the original Red Devils Ambassadors who believes it truly takes a community. Here is her story.
When I heard those words ‘You have breast cancer,’ my stomach hit the floor; my head began to spin. Emotions were everywhere and sometimes I didn’t know where to turn. Not only was I dealing with physical issues, but I was dealing with emotions of sorrow, loss, anger, fear and facing my mortality. And then the financial burdens of expensive medical procedures, co-pays and the inability to work began piling on.
I found ways to deal and to move on. I discovered doing something tactile helped me focus when my brain was temporarily destroyed by chemo. I started making jewelry and it became a mission to share cancer awareness jewelry with other survivors. I was bringing them hope and bringing myself hope that each of those cancer ribbons would give others strength. I found strength in myself that I never knew I had, and opened myself to accepting the strength and support of others.
I am an 11-year survivor. In 2011, I discovered The Red Devils. They assured me I was not alone, that they had my back, and they did. True to their mission, they improved my quality of life by believing in my value and welcoming me into their family. There’s never any expectation of reciprocity but if they need help, I try to help in ways I can. I volunteer, make videos and just show up. The old expression ‘showing up is 90 percent of the battle’ is true.
When I show up for The Red Devils, they can show up for breast cancer survivors.
I feel fortunate to be among the survivors they have touched over the years and to bear witness to their impact – making lives just a little easier during treatment. I am honored to be part of The Red Devils community.
“My story is ultimately one of gratitude, both for God’s grace and healing, and for the angels He sent in my behalf. The Red Devils came into my life when I needed help the most,” is how Erin began telling her story.
Erin was living with her aunt and was her caregiver after her aunt was diagnosed with late-life Parkinson’s disease. Her aunt gave her a place to stay because addiction and alcoholism had broken and splintered Erin’s family. “I was very grateful for her. Then she got diagnosed with Parkinson’s and she was scared. I was able to be her driver, her shopper, her cook, her laundress and when her voice started going away, I was her interpreter. I did whatever I could to make life easier for her. And I was grateful for that opportunity. I had to work part time so I got a job very close to her home so I could be available,” Erin wrote.
In October of 2019, Erin got a mammogram in October and when she didn’t hear anything about it, assumed it was fine. “A week before Christmas I got a call to come back for another mammogram. After that I was told I needed a biopsy. I knew by the actions and the look on the nurses faces it wasn’t good.” Erin was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast and lymph node cancer and would need to have a mastectomy. Erin continued, “I was terrified. This was February of 2020 and Covid had just started rearing its ugly head. So, I had to stop work, due to the compromised immune system from chemo. Everyone was going into lockdown mode and staying home, but I still had to travel back and forth to the hospital. My money was scarce, I was worried about my aunt, worried about my grandkids, my kid. I was preparing myself to die. Trying to be strong but feeling very weak.”
Her social worker arranged for assistance from The Red Devils. “They sent me a Walmart gift card and a Shoprite gift card. I was so grateful! It lifted my spirits and provided me a way to buy meals for us and to buy some of the over the counter drugs I needed in battling that chemo. I had infections a few times and needed other items that I was able to buy,” she recalled. “… I had nothing at that time so you KNOW that receiving those gifts was priceless. And just when i needed it the most.”
Erin ended her email to us with, “Thank you so much for helping lift me up at my lowest, and helping so many other people in my situation. I can’t thank you enough for helping me to make myself feel better whenever possible. Being completely broke during this devastating experience would have made me feel useless and out of control. The Red Devils are truly Angels on earth. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
We thank you each and every day for making it possible to be there. Erin is one of the more than 9,000 patients you have supported during the past 20 years. Your donation today will help us reach our 20th anniversary goal of ending 2022 by having touched the lives of 10,000 breast cancer families.
Patient navigators have long been invaluable partners with The Red Devils. Without them, the impact we have made on more than 9,000 families would not be possible. Yolanda Bennett is one of those patient navigator rock stars.
“I have been one of The Red Devils Coordinators since 2006. My role as a patient navigator is to assist patients overcome barriers and to provide resources. The Red Devils plays a crucial role in helping patients overcome barriers and helps me do my job by removing barriers,” Yolanda wrote.
Her story went on to share that, “Transportation is a common barrier and thanks to The Red Devils and their partnership with Lyft, patients are able to get their surgery in a timely manner.” She then went on to tell us about the case that stands out for her today after 16 years.
“One example of how The Red Devils made a difference, that I will always remember:
We had an elderly, widowed patient living with her son. She was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and metastasis to her bones. Her disease was very aggressive and [she] was unable to walk.”
“Her son brought her to her appointments, helped her with meals, helped her around the house, etc. But there was one thing he was unable to bring himself to do, which was to bathe her. He was in tears; he just couldn’t bring himself to do it, and didn’t have the funds to hire help either.”
“Thanks to The Red Devils and The Elizabeth Cooney Agency, a non-skilled aid was provided to assist the patient with bathing and other chores. The assistance provided had a major impact on the patient and her son.”
Yolanda concluded her story with, “The patient was able to keep her dignity because of you. I’m very grateful to The Red Devils and their generous donors!”
We are proud and humbled to work with people like Yolanda all across Maryland who go that extra mile to do what it takes to improve the quality of life for breast cancer families. Your generous donations power her impact! Contribute now to help all those relying on The Red Devils.