Wendy Letow, founder of The Little Things for Cancer

Wendy Letow, founder of The Little Things for Cancer (photo by Sarah Pastrana / February 4, 2013)

As a caregiver, Richard DeCaro knows that a little kindness goes a long way. And now he has a local nonprofit organization to thank for making his life a little easier.

The Dorsey’s Search resident began taking care of his wife, Ellen, in 2008 after she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer at age 50.

She had been teaching consumer science at Dunloggin Middle School in Ellicott City, the happy result of a late-in-life career switch, when she awoke from a nap one day and didn’t know who she was, he says. Symptoms such as vocabulary loss eventually led her to leave the job she loved.

Nowadays, says Richard, 57, “I basically surround Ellen all the time.”

So when he received a personalized gift basket from The Little Things for Cancer, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization based in Columbia, he was touched.

“It made me feel really good that someone cared about me,” he says. “No one had ever done anything like that before.”

Making people feel better is the goal of TLT4C, as it is affectionately known. And financial need is never a condition of giving.

“We’re all about improving quality of life,” says Wendy Letow, founder and executive director. “We work at reducing stress and anxiety for cancer patients and their caregivers. The ‘little things’ can be really huge for them.”

The organization helps by disbursing the funds it raises to social workers who identify such needs as transportation, child care, meals and prescription payments. But there is also money available to pay for “entertainment to lift spirits and so much more,” Letow says.

Letow, 43, founded the organization in 2006, but says she “quickly realized she was in over her head.”

Aside from organizing one event that raised $1,000, activity quickly ground to a halt.

The Ellicott City resident continued working as a full-time massage therapist and as an assistant in a dental office. She also volunteered for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults in Howard County and for the Red Devils, a nonprofit that works to improve the lives of breast cancer patients, and where Letow was mentored.

After being idle for four years, TLT4C “really became an organization” two years ago, Letow says.

She and her husband, Larry, who have three grown children, made the decision that she should quit her jobs and devote herself to working as TLT4C’s unpaid executive director, she says, adding that “things really took off quickly” after that.

“I began asking people whose lives were touched by all kinds of cancer what they were missing,” she says.

She currently works to fulfill needs identified by caseworkers at five Maryland hospitals in three counties and in Baltimore City. Aside from Howard County General Hospital in Columbia, the organization works with Shady Grove Adventist in Montgomery County as well as Anne Arundel, Mercy and University of Maryland medical centers.

Other Maryland hospitals are under consideration as is the possibility of adding a paid staff position, she says. A Boston chapter has formed, but will operate somewhat independently.

“We’re raising money in the state, and that’s where it should stay,” Letow says of the Columbia group. “We want to support more cancer patients who live or are treated in Maryland, along with their caregivers.”

There is an undisclosed quarterly cap on funding per person, she explains, “since not everyone asks for just enough.”

Diane Tollick, a patient resource guide at Howard County General Hospital, understands the emotional value of what Letow’s organization offers.