Christopher Schardt, husband of the late Ginny Schardt; Joan Worthington, sister of Ginny; and Henry Mitchell and Rebecca Berger, friends of the late Jessica Cowling; continue to support The Red Devils, an organization started 10 years ago in honor of the two women. The group is pictured at Goucher College, the location of The Red Devils 5K Run and Stroll June 10 to support families of those with breast cancer.(Courtesy Liz Chuday)
Well before Virginia “Ginny” Schardt was diagnosed with breast cancer, the St. Mary of the Assumption, Govans, parishioner and 1975 graduate of the Institute of Notre Dame shared with her younger sister a lesson.
“Every day before I get out of bed, I think of three things I’m happy for,” she said.
Those words have stuck with Joan Worthington, one of Ginny’s five sisters, for years.
“To this day, I still think of three things I’m happy for,” Worthington said. “You have a much better life when you’re happy and more positive about your life.”
Many people have positive memories of Ginny, an engaging and caring wife, step-mother, sister and teacher who continued working as a professor of kinesiology, travelling and living her life as she underwent treatment for breast cancer.
Ginny died Aug. 16, 2002 at the age of 44, but her spirit has carried on, in a big way, through an organization called The Red Devils.
During her treatment, Ginny befriended Jessica Cowling, a young woman with cancer that had metastasized. Ginny’s husband, Christopher Schardt, and Jessica’s parents became friends during this time as well, and after the death of their loved ones, needed somewhere to channel their energy. So they launched The Red Devils, an organization which seeks to improve the quality of life of families living with breast cancer. The Red Devils help cover the cost of transportation to and from treatments, house cleaning and meals, as well as emergency needs that may arise.
(The name Red Devil was inspired by Katherine Russell Rich, author of “The Red Devil: To Hell With Cancer and Back.” Red Devil is a common name for a chemotherapy drug known to many breast cancer survivors for its bright red color.)
It’s been nine years since I interviewed Christopher Schardt, 10 years since the creation of The Red Devils, and nearly 10 years since the anniversary of Ginny’s death.
The Red Devils have been going strong and help cancer patients in more than 38 Maryland hospitals, according to their website.
This weekend The Red Devils are holding their largest annual fundraiser, a 5K Run & Stroll June 10 at Goucher College (on-site registration begins at 7 a.m.).
Christopher Schardt, who is now general manager of Harbor Place and the Gallery in downtown Baltimore, said he doesn’t think they ever envisioned that 10 years down the road, “we’d still be as actively involved in it and that there’d unfortunately still be a huge need for the services we provide.”
Schardt, who is active on the board and in the organization, said the model they developed 10 years ago to help people as they are fighting breast cancer has proven to be very effective. The top three services the Red Devils offer through third party partners are food, housecleaning and transportation to and from treatments, he said.
The annual run raised $110,000 in 2011 and The Red Devils hope to grow that amount this year, he said.
“What keeps us going is the difference we’ve been able to make,” said Schardt. “We’re not out there trying to cure breast cancer or make huge strides in that regard. We’re out there to make a difference in their lives during the process. And when you see that our efforts, as small as they may seem and be, have made such an impact on these people’s lives and allowed them to cope a little bit better with this terrible disease, it keeps you going. “
Worthington, who has served on The Red Devils board for six years and will serve as president next year, became emotional as she recounted the letters from women and families they have helped.
“It’s usually the moms or the caretaker of the family who has breast cancer, so they can’t do those day-to-day things to keep moving along, such as make dinner and clean the house,” Worthington said. “That just makes everything more off balance. We want to give them something that’s normal. Housecleaning for six months helps them out so much. It seems like such a small thing.”
She said with their family, everyone was able to take a day with Ginny, to drive her to appointments, drive her to class or whatever she needed.
“We were lucky that we could provide that to Ginny,” Worthington said. “So many other families don’t have that.”
A big support for The Red Devils has come from Ginny’s IND classmates and alumni. Ginny and four of her sisters attended the Baltimore City school.
“The strong ties with Ginny’s IND friends have really helped make the Red Devils a huge success,” Worthington said. “The new president of the school already made a donation this year.”
Tricia Hayden, a 1980 graduate of the school is the services manager for The Red Devils, and past board member Jeanne Backof and board member and treasurer Tricia Thomas also attended IND.
Schardt recalled nine years ago how his wife, who was baptized, confirmed and married at St. Mary’s, continued teaching throughout her cancer and packed her life full of activity.
“Cancer is a club you don’t want to join, but all of the sudden, you realize there are plenty of members,” he said then. “But as I saw with my wife, your mental attitude, your faith and your determination can work just as strong as chemotherapy.”
To make a donation to the Red Devils, visit http://www.the-red-devils.org/wp3/.