My mother has always been more of a man than most any man I’ve ever known. Never interested in being pretty or ambitious, she wants the entire world to know how tough she is. When I was a kid a 220-pound guy hit on her and she knocked him out cold with a haymaker to the jaw. I have to admit that was kinda cool.

Unfortunately, mom is also an ass. Her need to be strong, to not let anyone see she’s hurt or needs help manifests itself in more ways to cause maximum discomfort for all around her than I can count. She doesn’t tell anyone anything and as a result little, manageable problems turn into unholy nightmares. She keeps things hush-hush, suffers needlessly, then leaves the lot of us scrambling to get things fixed.

Now add cancer to the mix. About a year ago, at age 76, mom was diagnosed with lymphoma. This was barely two years after my father died of stomach cancer. Dad, however, went relatively quickly. By the time we found out he had it, it was too late.

Mom’s low-grade, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, however, is one of the most treatable kinds of cancers, a diagnosis we at first thought was the best news to hear in a bad situation. In truth, what it amounts to is a non-ending series of hospital stays, chemotherapy side effects, bouts of extreme fatigue and weakness, and an ever-changing list of could-be subdiagnoses. And what that amounts to in a woman who doesn’t want anyone to worry over her is recurring catastrophe.

See, here’s the conundrum — mom is sick. She’s just not sick enough to get the kind of help she most needs, the day-to-day. She is sick enough to be in the most amount of pain and discomfort and just sick enough for the doctors to send her home with the following prescription: If she gets that bad, take her to the emergency room.

Very comforting.

Whenever mom comes home from the hospital — and that is a regular occurrence lately — the reality is that she is weak and deflated. But her insurers, seeing that she has no restrictions, will not pay to remodel the downstairs for her comfort, will not help her find ways to make her more mobile, and will not pay for a healthcare worker to make sure she’s all right.

Nor will they pay for anyone to help her even with the basics — like the laundry, the dishes, or the cooking. Despite that she is on oxygen and cannot go near an open flame.

About a week ago I got a press release that really grabbed my attention. It started with this line: “Anyone living with cancer is fighting a tough battle,” says Shirley Perlinsky, owner and CEO of S&G Cleaning Services Corp. in Manville (” It ended with a comment from a woman who benefited from S&G’s services: “There are tons of cancer-research foundations. I need help with my house.”

Amen. The battle against cancer, unfortunately, suffers greatly from hyperbole. The cause bandies platitudes like a presidential convention in order to raise research funds. But all the flag waving in the world does little about the day-to-day.

“Our mission,” Perlinsky says, “is not just to provide cleaning services, but to alleviate the burden of worrying about endless jobs around the house, especially those that women fighting cancer should not have to worry about.”

S&G Cleaning Services is a member of the Cleaning For A Reason Foundation (, an organization dedicated to “providing the gift of a clean home to women undergoing treatment for cancer.” Women undergoing treatment for cancer can apply for free cleaning by visiting the foundation’s website. “Friends and neighbors often bring food, but they don’t usually offer to clean the house,” Perlinsky says. “All it takes is a few keystrokes, and we will provide free cleanings once a month for four months.”

Little things like these are not so little when you’re dealing with something like cancer, especially when the person you’re caring for is too healthy for round-the-clock care, too sick to be entirely on her own, and too stubborn or secretive to let you know she needs help. We’re all pretty good at reading mom, but in an exceedingly counterproductive arms race, she is getting better at hiding her recurring symptoms in hopes that they just go away. She can go long stretches when she actually is fine. But it eventually catches up, and the more she keeps quiet, the sicker she gets and the more she needlessly suffers. And then she has to have more attentive care, eventually leading to yet another stay in the hospital.

Mom is fortunate to have a solid group of people willing to help her when she needs it. But when she does need it things can get very dicey very quickly — even with our own network of pitchers-in. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be the only one helping out, not to mention going through treatment with no one to help you at all.

Believe me when I say that there really are no little things when dealing with cancer. But I’m glad there are a few companies willing to help out with the day-to-day things while we take care of the big ones.

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