FARGO — Sometimes a shared experience, either good or bad, can foster the most valuable connections.
Kasie Bixby found hers through a local cleaning service.
Her mother, Sharon Green, was battling colon cancer, and Bixby had been her primary caregiver for more than a year.
Green, 65, started receiving hospice care in July at her apartment home in West Fargo, and her daughter began looking for a cleaning service to tidy up the place.
Bixby was working a lot and happened to be moving at the time, so she needed the help.
She found Mama Ducks Cleaning Service, a local business that also runs a Cleaning for Cancer program for women undergoing cancer treatment.
Bixby, of Moorhead, couldn’t believe her mom could get her apartment cleaned, for free.
“I’m like, 'Wow. Like, really?'" she said.
She connected with Mama Ducks' owner, Sandra Vigen, of Horace, N.D., who lost her own mother, Betty Klysen, 69, to lung cancer.
Vigen said she started the free service for cancer patients to honor her mother’s memory.
“This is a small thing... but it’s my way of giving back,” she said.
For Bixby, the connection with Vigen came at just the right time.
“We were sitting there talking about both of our moms… She was crying, I was crying. You know, it was just heartfelt,” Bixby said.
Mess equals stress
Bixby’s mother had a longtime job at Essentia Health helping to set up appointments for patients. As she got sicker, she was unable to work, or do much of anything.
“They were giving her double doses of stuff and it wasn’t even touching the pain,” Bixby said.
Vigen said having a messy home can be stressful even for healthy people. Add a cancer diagnosis and it’s overwhelming.
“You wish you could get up and clean your house like you used to. You wish you had the energy like you used to have,” Vigen said.
A Mama Ducks cleaning team came to Green’s apartment on Aug. 20 to dust, mop and scrub.
Bixby said her mother died later that same day. She choked up talking about it, tapping her fingers over her heart.
“It felt good to know that the place was clean before she left,” she said, her voice breaking.
When family members gathered at Green’s apartment following her death, they saw clean surroundings, something that would be important to her mom, Bixby said.
“You know, I think that was the best thing that could ever happen,” she said.
What she 'would have wanted'
Other cleaning companies in the area also offer free house cleaning for women cancer patients.
Merry Maids, in Grand Forks and Fargo, has done so for several years as part of its affiliation with a nonprofit organization.
Vigen left an executive sales job to start her cleaning business in August 2017 with encouragement from her mother, Klysen, who was diagnosed with lung cancer just weeks later.
“Devastating news for us, but we’re the type of family where everything turns out. We can fix everything,” she said.
But they couldn’t fix it. While her mother did have a period of remission, Klysen died in January 2018 soon after the cancer came back.
A part of her lives on outside her daughter’s home. Vigen later transplanted 150 of her mom’s perennials into a backyard garden.
Vigen offers two free house cleanings each month to a woman dealing with cancer, taking applications and nominations on the company's website. Once selected, she asks that the patient provide a note from their physician confirming they’re in treatment.
She knows the gesture won’t cure the cancer, but it will be a day brightener.
“If I can help them for a day or a couple of days feel better and be a little bit more optimistic, then I’m doing what my mom would have wanted me to do,” she said.