Woodstock single parent with cancer aided by 'Michelle's Love'
Just about everyone knows someone who is a single parent, and someone who has cancer. But when someone falls into both categories, it takes strength and support just to get along.
A Woodstock resident, Mary Rower, was diagnosed in 2013 with multiple-myeloma, a form of blood cancer – and Rower is also a single parent with a teenage son and daughter. She has received many different treatments for her "incurable but treatable" cancer, including two stem cell transplants. She currently receives weekly chemotherapy infusions as well as important support from a Scappoose-based nonprofit organization "Michelle's Love", which provides volunteer assistance to single parents with cancer. Mrs. Andy McCandless started that organization six years ago, in memory of her best friend of fourteen years, Michelle Singleton – a single mother of four who died just two years after her cancer diagnosis. Today, McCandless's organization has a large database of volunteers ready to help.
On a recent sunny morning, eight volunteers from "Michelle's Love" performed a "deep cleaning" of Rower's 104-year-old Woodstock house, where she lives with her children. The organization typically cleans one house a month using up to fifteen volunteers.
"You cannot get better in your house, if you don't feel good about it!" quipped McCandless, as she set off to assist her volunteers with the cleaning, after a conversation with THE BEE about her organization.
"Studies show that stress can weaken the immune system, and make one vulnerable to illness, and make it difficult to recover," she said. "Our mission is to relieve that stress, so you can recover and get better. Having a clean house, meals provided, and money to pay your bills can help reduce stress."
McCandless explained that "Michelle's Love" provides no cash, but does pay some bills directly that parents cannot afford to pay. "A single parent with cancer, undergoing treatment, missing a lot of work – how can they pay all of their bills? Financial help is the hardest thing for a person to ask for, but it provides the biggest relief."
Two years ago, as the organization grew, "Michelle's Love" also started making rent and mortgage payments for single parents with cancer. "This month we have paid thirteen rents and mortgages," said McCandless.
The organization can afford such generosity because of its fundraising and its regular donors. Each year a benefit dinner and run are held, and this year the dinner alone brought in $15,000, because Buffalo Gap Saloon and Eatery on S.W. Macadam Avenue covered the cost of food and the space. She also commented that "Michelle's Love" pays very little for marketing. "Our reach with social media is broad. . . We raised a total of $156,000 last year, and it cost under $300 to do it."
McCandless is the only staff person of the regional charity, and encourages people to visit their website, where all financial records are posted. "We are very transparent," she said. "Over 90% of money raised goes to the patients we serve."
One person who has been volunteering every month, without fail, to help clean homes for these patients is Jennifer Hughes, who says it feels personal and very gratifying to help a specific person who has a specific need. "You can see how you are making an effect on someone's daily life. And, it is always inspiring to meet the mom [or dad]."
After being away for seven hours of chemotherapy, Rower returned home to find her Woodstock house exceptionally clean, her front walk weeded and graveled, and a lot of other weeding done. "It is wonderful to have them do things I used to do myself, but don't have the stamina for now. They catch me up on things that would have been a challenge to do." The crew stayed for four hours, and said they had a good time.
Who decides which cancer patients are recipients of "Michelle's Love"? McCandless said, "About 90% are referred by oncology social workers; the rest are by word of mouth."
To read the whole story about Michelle's Love, and to see photos, all yearly events, financial records, and how to "share the love" and donate, go online – www.michelleslove.org