Cancer has forced Barbara Ann Stover to become a person she doesn't recognize when she looks in the mirror.
It's the woman with stubble instead of long brown hair, with hands that swell, who feels sapped of strength even when doing the littlest things.
The act of keeping her compact Warminster condo neat and tidy turned from easy chore into unmanageable burden. When she needed help, Stover discovered a group that will bust the dust for free.
Cleaning for a Reason is a new nonprofit organization that does free residential cleaning for women undergoing treatment for cancer. The Texas-based group partners with more than 200 residential cleaning businesses throughout the United States and in Canada to provide the service. So far, more than 300 women with cancer have been helped.
"Even though this is the 21st century, women are still the primary ones concerned about the home, and when they are worried about their house, it is very difficult to focus on their health," said Debbie Sardone, founder of Cleaning for a Reason.
Sardone started the organization after she spoke at a meeting of the Association of Residential Cleaning Services International. Sardone mentioned that her Lewisville, Texas, cleaning firm provided free services for seriously ill customers who are financially strapped. The response from other business owners was so enthusiastic that Sardone decided to start the nonprofit organization.
In the Bucks County area, three businesses have teamed with the charity: Harmony Clean in Doylestown, Do You Need Me? Cleaning Professionals in Warrington, and You've Got it Maid in Horsham, Montgomery County. There are 11 affiliates based in Pennsylvania.
"There aren't many ways for a maid company to give back to the community," said Tara Ewalt, owner of You've Got it Maid, "but this is a real cool way to do that."
Businesses that partner with Cleaning for a Reason are encouraged to provide at least four free monthly cleanings to a client, but individual business owners often do more. Depending on the size of the business, owners pay dues between $20 and $50 to the organization for administrative costs. Cleaning for a Reason also is funded by a small amount of private donations.
Since its founding, more than $60,000 in free cleaning has been donated to women undergoing treatment for cancer. The group offers services only to women, but hopes eventually to expand its mission.
Patients must sign up through the national organization and provide a doctor's confirmation that they are being treated. Cleaning for a Reason then finds the closest cleaning service, which contacts the patient.
Business owners Vicki Brown (Harmony Clean) and Renee Rawcliffe (Do You Need Me?) joined Cleaning for a Reason six months ago. Both had informally helped seriously ill customers with free cleanings, and were excited about being part of an organized national effort.
"We cleaned for a woman who was in a hospital bed that was set up downstairs," said Rawcliffe, of Warrington. "She was just so happy to see us because she used to keep her place spic-and-span."
"As women, we want to be able to do it all," said Brown, of Chalfont. "And you can't."
Many of the business owners have had family members with cancer. Ewalt has lost three aunts to the disease. Rawcliffe's aunt died of cancer, and her mother is a breast-cancer survivor. Brown's grandmother, who had a cleaning business when Brown was growing up, died of breast cancer. Sardone's father died of cancer, and her mother is a cancer survivor.
Stover, who works in a medical office, was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in May. She found a lump in her breast while she was putting on sunscreen.
Her treatment has included multiple complications from chemotherapy. She has had to undergo repeated blood transfusions, and the complications have prevented her from working. She is divorced, and her two sons live in other states.
"Everything used to be so easy," said Stover, 58. "Now, it's hard."
That includes housekeeping at her small condo, which is full of knickknacks such as her collection of Pez dispensers and tiny stuffed animals. Stover heard about Cleaning for a Reason at Gilda's Club Delaware Valley, the Warminster organization that provides services and support for people with cancer and their families.
During a recent cleaning at Stover's home, the staff of Do You Need Me? vacuumed, wiped, dusted and chatted with Stover.
"It feels so good afterward," Stover said. "I can just sit and rest, and I don't have to worry about something that isn't worth worrying about."
To learn more about Cleaning for a Reason, call the organization's headquarters at 877-337-3348; visit
» READ MORE: www.cleaningforareason.org
; or call local partners Do You Need Me? Cleaning Professionals (267-994-1552), Harmony Clean (215-230-7700), or You've Got it Maid (215-371-2802).