Depending on their generation, people either phoned or Facebooked, emailed or Instagrammed.
While the means of connection varied, the message did not: What can I do to help?
People who read an Inquirer story this week about the ordeal of Maureen Wall — a homeless Chester County woman with metastatic breast cancer that has spread to her lungs and liver — have sent her and her husband, Don, money, food, and prayers.
They’ve called meetings in law firms and county offices to figure how to smooth the way forward for the wife who spends much of her life in a hospital bed, and the husband who often sleeps in a chair by her side. They’ve organized cheering visits to the couple, and dispatched Freddie, the therapy hound, to breathlessly offer guileless good wishes.
“I’m kind of overwhelmed by the reaction,” said Don, 59, a former auto-parts salesman who lost his job and his house, and now watches Maureen, 60, struggle with a disease “that is just all-consuming — physically, mentally, emotionally.”
Spurred by decency, empathy, or the scarred memory of losing a loved one to cancer, readers reacted with a kind of indignant passion, sending cash and checks to the Walls’ post office box, and creating a GoFundMe page online.
Meanwhile, the Chester County Housing Authority began a process that may find the couple a place to live.
At the same time, Katie Gowa, a lawyer in the firm of H. Rosen Law in Center City, learned that the Walls have no legal representation, and offered to consult with the couple to see whether she can help get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for Maureen.
During the week, Guy Ciarrocchi, president and CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry, sent a note to county commissioners asking what role they could play. “I lost my dad, grandmother, and brother to cancer,” he said. “The Walls are seven minutes from my office. With the network I have available, there’s a way to make life bearable for them.”
What that way is has yet to be determined.
The partners willing to help have coalesced quickly, the speedy intent propelled by the knowledge that Maureen may have less than a year to live.
“She needs a village — now,” said Adrienne Bearden, a West Chester makeup artist who has worked on Hollywood films such as The Lovely Bones. She started the GoFundMe site for the Walls.
“I’m a single mom, and I lost my father to cancer when I was 11," said Bearden, who visited Maureen at Chester County Hospital with a friend this week. “I can’t imagine having cancer and being homeless. I spoke with Maureen and we cried. We need to rally around this mama.”
Marianne Sarcich, a part-time guide at Wilmington’s Hagley Museum, runs the Facebook survivor group In This Together Philly/Wilmington. She said she “teared up” when she read about Maureen. Then she womaned up.
“I said, ‘This cannot stand, she needs support immediately,'” Sarcich said, acknowledging that her own cancer experience was on her mind. "I started sending posts locally and nationally, many to moms’ groups, looking for help.
“You ask for the moon, then see what you get.”
Sarcich asked Maureen what she loved. Maureen said dogs, and gentle Freddie padded into her hospital room.
Maureen said vegan food, and Sarcich requested that her group members collect restaurant gift cards.
Maureen said the Christian singer Jeremy Camp, and Sarcich wondered, “Wouldn’t it be great if I was able to arrange a call to her from him?” That one has yet to be realized.
Ultimately, Sarcich said, “I want to bring Maureen joy. I want her to feel cared for. There are 500 people in my group and we will be by her side, virtually and in visits.”
Echoing that determination to help, others have mailed cash and checks to the Walls.
Jim McLaughlin, 77, of Broomall, sent $100, saying, “Mr. and Mrs. Wall could easily be seen as Everyman and Everywoman because their horrible plight could be suffered by virtually every one of us.”
Louise Woods, 78, of Northeast Philadelphia, plans to send the couple $50 “when I get my Social Security check at the end of the month.”
Leonard Moeller, 73, of Downingtown, is sending $100, wishing it was $1,000. “I don’t want any thank-you’s,” he said. “I’ll just say a prayer for them.”
Grateful, Don said he hasn’t had a chance to count the money that’s been sent.
“Last night was rough for Maureen,” he said quietly. “Once in a while, I see glimpses of the woman I married, then things get so bad. She’s scared and shaking.”
But just as Maureen knows lots of folks are working to ease her days, she can have no doubt about Don.