Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun
October 3, 2012
Pictured (from left):Jan Wilson, executive director of the Red Devils and breast cancer survivors Angela Watts and her daughter Candi Watts
They call themselves the Red Devils, after a common breast cancer drug. But for the thousands of women they have helped in the last decade, the name is misleading.
"They are more like angels," said Lela Robertson, a Windsor Mill resident who was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in 2008.
"I live alone," Robertson said. "I had just lost my daughter and I felt like my life was in shambles, when I learned I had breast cancer. The day after my first chemo, there was a knock at my door and the Red Devils were bringing me dinner. They kept on helping me."
The nonprofit was established to honor the legacy of Jessica Cowling and Ginny Schardt, two young women who became friends while undergoing treatment and died within weeks of each other in 2002. During the course of their illness, the women's families met many patients who were not surrounded by the same constant support. They found many who needed help with daily tasks.
The Red Devils provide meals, do the grocery shopping and the housekeeping and offer transportation ¿ gas cards, bus passes and door-to-door service ¿ anything to make life easier. There is no fee for these services.
"I am a neatnik who really enjoys a clean house," said Sharon Grose, a 20-year-survivor and Jarrettsville resident, who has lost the use of her right arm and is undergoing a debilitating treatment. "The Red Devils clean my house. They do whatever I ask and it makes me feel comfortable in my own home."
Members have bought eye glasses and mattresses, paid for childcare and family outings, and arranged for massage, acupuncture and yoga for patients. They have prevented evictions, paid utility bills and taken over patients' co-pays.
"The idea is to fund support services to improve the quality of life," said Jan Wilson, the Red Devils' executive director since 2006. "So many patients do not enjoy the broad support of families and friends. We try hard to respond to any request."
They recently purchased a new set of tires for a patient's car.
"We want to provide whatever the patient needs to get back on her feet," said Tricia Hayden, the Red Devils' services manager, who often sees the differences a wish fulfilled can make. "Not a day goes by without a success story."
The original Red Devils, most of them family or friends of Cowling and Schardt, started in a household basement and did not occupy an office for the first five years. Pitchforks decorate the office walls and windows, along with framed T-shirts from various fundraising walks. Most are printed with "It's great to be a devil."
With 4,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed every year in Maryland, the Red Devils widened their reach and now work with patient coordinators at 40 area hospitals. Patients also call and email frequently asking for help.
Through fundraising events, grants and contributions, Red Devils raised more than $420,000 last year and helped 700 families. Most of the funds went to patient services, about $300 per patient, Wilson said. Nearly 250 patients were given more than 1,100 round-trip rides to medical appointments last year ¿ the most requested service ¿ and 15 were driven to this month¿s survivors luncheon in Columbia.
The Get a Ride Give a Ride online raffle for a 2012 Nissan Rogue, which runs through Nov. 3, will raise funds for even more rides. Every $100 raffle ticket sold means at least one round-trip ride for a patient.
"It is not an inexpensive proposition to save a life," Wilson said. "Until there is a cure, there will be Red Devils. We make an immediate impact."
For more information on the Red Devils, (877) 643-0202, firstname.lastname@example.org or the-red-devils.org.
— Mary Gail Hare