AID FOR CANCER PATIENTS

THE BALTIMORE SUN

After more than a year juggling the family finances to handle the expense of battling breast cancer, Ronda Badiang was surprised a few months back when she found she was unable to pay a $1,000 deductible for her treatment.

She was even more surprised when the Red Devils stepped in to settle the bill, no questions asked.

"Even with good insurance, I still needed them," said the 35-year-old Taneytown mother of one. "Initially, I cried. It was a blessing."

The Red Devils - the name comes from a potent, scarlet-red chemotherapy drug - aim to help breast cancer patients and their families by funding child care, coordinating rides to the doctor and helping to pay bills, among other services. Created by friends of Jessica Cowling and Ginny Schardt, the idea behind the Baltimore-based nonprofit is to give newly diagnosed patients the same kind of support that the two Maryland women received before they succumbed to the disease in 2002.

The organization assists about 650 women a year. But organization officials say tough economic times are making that work more challenging.

"We're seeing a lot of people who need help with mortgages, gas and car payments," executive director Jan Wilson said. At the same time, "donations are down. We're seeing more gifts, but they're smaller in size.

"The hospitals have a very difficult time deciding who to refer to our organization, because we can't help everybody."

Treating a breast cancer patient can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year. The stormy economy has more women - including some, such as Badiang, who consider their insurance good and their support systems strong - seeking shelter under the Red Devils' umbrella.

"When you have cancer, it's for 24 hours a day," said Elizabeth Weglein, chief executive officer of the Elizabeth Cooney Care Network, which provides services funded by the Red Devils. "[We] work to identify individuals who have fallen through the cracks."

Recently, the Red Devils received a $150,000 grant from the nonprofit Susan G. Komen for the Cure. But the Red Devils' Heart and Sole Stroll this month in Columbia, its largest annual fundraiser, fell $25,000 short of its $130,000 goal. They are hoping to meet their target by securing more donations online.

Badiang was diagnosed with breast cancer just six days shy of her 34th birthday, joining an estimated 3,660 Maryland women diagnosed with the disease every year, according to Susan G. Komen for the Cure Maryland.

"It was Feb. 11, 2008," Badiang recalled of the Tuesday afternoon that her doctor phoned to break the news. Given her age and family history, she hadn't seen herself as a candidate for breast cancer. "I was told I had ductal carcinoma, which was like Latin to me, but I said, 'OK, where do I go from here?' "

From there, she underwent two surgeries at Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson - one to remove the tumor from her left breast, another to remove lymph nodes, which tested negative for the spread of cancerous cells. Several rounds of energy-draining radiation and chemotherapy ensued.

"My job as a home help aide involved lifting elderly people," said Badiang, "but some days I could barely lift my own head."

Forced to quit her regular job, she immediately began a new full-time position fighting for her life and the lives of other breast cancer-afflicted women. Since being diagnosed, she has raised more than $5,000 for the Red Devils.

Her husband, Jason Badiang, 32, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Taneytown's Northwest Middle School, has taken a second job cleaning corporate offices at night to help pay off the mounting medical bills.

"I call [breast cancer] my inconvenience," Badiang said. "You never know, you could be next."

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