Editor’s note: Kara Anderson is a Top 25 finalist for America Inspired. The contest celebrates extraordinary people making a difference across the United States. We invite you to cast your vote for the most compelling article in the Overcoming Adversity category as well as the four other America Inspired categories. After voting closes on Jan. 27, the finalists with the most votes in each category will share $100,000 in prizes.
Kara Anderson is as surprised as anyone that she is a finalist in Examiner.com’s America Inspired contest.
“It’s funny because I don’t think that I’m very inspiring; all I know is that I had cancer and I just started cleaning toilets for people for free.”
While that quote reflects Kara’s natural modesty, there is a little more to it, of course.
The cancer that she refers to struck out-of-the-blue at age 39 in 2009. It is a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer called HER2-positive that tends to be less responsive to typical hormone treatment. She underwent chemotherapy treatment, had bi-lateral mastectomy, and continues with clinical trial treatments.
The cancer brought with it additional obstacles: Trying to maintain being a mom to her two children, Gordy and Shelby, and a wife to her husband, Steve, while also running a small business (Maids on the Run cleaning service) was challenging enough. But there is also the juggling of seemingly endless medical appointments and the massive bills that unfortunately follow. Finally, there is the traveling to Orlando, Fla. and Seattle, Wash. for various clinical trials in hopes to find a treatment that helps her stay cancer free.
“Knowing that there is a 32 percent chance that this will return within five years is scary,” Kara said, though she didn’t linger there for long. “That’s why I try to spend each day like it really is my last and to make a difference that my kids can be proud of.”
That desire to make a difference lead to her “cleaning toilets for people for free.” After successful surgery removed the cancer, she began Cleaning with a Meaning, a Jacksonville, Fla. based nonprofit that offers free maid service from local cleaning companies in cities across the country to families of children diagnosed with a serious illness.
“I love helping people and feel that I am still here to make a difference, even if it’s just a small one,” Kara said. “I focus on what I know and can do and cleaning is it. Honestly, I really did not see it making a huge difference until this contest.”
Kara is inspired by any parent who is dealing with an illness that can and does rob their children from them.
“For a parent to have to watch their child suffer and to see the strength that it takes in them to explain to that child why and what is happening. That’s real courage,” Kara said.
She is motivated by how seemingly so little can make such a big difference in the life of someone living with an illness. And how easy it really is to give back.
“For me, it was cleaning because I already had a business, the products and the manpower in place. But if someone can bake and bring cookies to a hospital or to a neighbor going through a difficult time; if you can cook a meal or two and bring to a family that you have heard about suffering with an illness; if you see a post on someone’s Facebook wall, just acknowledge and support them even if that is all you can do. You do not have to know someone to make a difference. There are many things you can do to help someone that do not cost any money.”
Convincing cleaning companies that helping others free of charge is good for business is one of Kara’s biggest challenges.
“Any time you give, the reward is giving, not getting," Kara said. "I work tirelessly on getting new cleaning companies to join the network so that more families can be helped.”
The $50,000 grand prize in the America Inspired contest would help free Kara to devote more time soliciting cleaning companies and connecting them with needy families around the country. She would also donate some of the money to organizations that are fighting childhood cancer. The rest would be used to help pay her overwhelming medical bills, continue clinical trials and perhaps set up a bit of a nest egg for her children in the event that the cancer returns.
“The scariest thing about a major illness is that once you have it you can't get life insurance; and being young you don't plan ahead and think something like this can happen to you,” Kara said. “Well, unfortunately, it does and it did and I regret not planning for my children's future better.”
Cleaning with a Meaning is Kara’s way of helping others who feel similar stress from living with an illness.
“The two hours that a company donates could be the first time that week that a mom or dad can focus on themselves, or have the chance to spend time with family that they rarely get to see due to treatments and constant traveling,” Kara pointed out.
Kara said she envisions Cleaning with a Meaning as an old fashioned phone tree where we are all helping each other. “We do not take donations; just time and talent from licensed cleaning companies nationwide. So, we just want people who use a cleaning service for their homes to suggest to that company that they join our network.”
In addition to encouraging their local cleaning companies to join Cleaning with a Meaning, people seeking to support Kara’s vision can also refer a family in need or volunteer to spend phone time soliciting more services (this can be done from home any where in the country).
“I just try to live my life each day by doing three things: believe, achieve and receive. I encourage others to do the same. God didn’t forget to wake us up today and we better be grateful and make it count.”
To vote for Kara Anderson, go here. To find out more about Cleaning with a Meaning go to their website at www.cleaningwithameaning.com. Follow Kara on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cwamnow. Go here to read about the National Pink Tie Organization's endorsement of Kara.