For eight years, Maryka de Orla lived in Hawthorne caring for her disabled adult daughter. She had raised her children in Hermosa Beach. She had a career as a broadcast journalist.
Then, in July 2016, the 58 year old was diagnosed with breast cancer.
De Orla lost her job and subsequently, her home. There was nowhere to go, she said.
Homelessness meant de Orla had no place to rest after chemotherapy and radiation. She and her daughter lived in their car for almost a year.
Then, she found Cancer Support Community Redondo Beach. Members pitched in funds so she and her daughter could stay in a hotel during treatment.
Having the respite of a hotel room helped her physically, but also helped to alleviate what she terms the “indignity” of the experience.
“Transitional homes for women are hard to find," she said. "I was homeless, and in the immediate, women in my group at CSCRB provided as many nights in a hotel for my daughter and I as they could,” de Orla explains.
She notes that being able to “jump right in” with a support group was important.
“You’re bombarded with feelings of being out of control, with medical decisions, and to be in a group, you learn a tremendous amount about how to navigate the medical system and advocate for your rights," said De Orla.
Group facilitator Ann Clary introduced de Orla to Jill Grey, Cancer Support Navigator and Kids Community Coordinator at CSCRB, who provided de Orla with a list of resources. She took on that list like a “full- time job,” she notes, and both “got luck and persevered like crazy.”
South Bay’s Sandpipers organization was the first to answer her pleas.
“They started a dialog with me," said de Orla. "I was without a home for almost a year. My daughter and I were living in our car, taking care of each other. Because she suffers from severe trauma PTSD, I had to keep it together for her, even if I felt so sick."
De Orla said it is dangerous being homeless and there is a lack of resources for women.
“Our safe spot was the 24-hour Denny’s at Western and 190th Street," she said. "We would get our hot meals there and wi-fi."
The staff at the Denny's were amazing, she said and like "our angels," often providing extra-large portions of food, and welcoming them with kindness.
Finally, de Orla received a break.
“An apartment came up through a friend of mine who was a property manager, and he worked very hard to get us into our studio and on our feet, and help us recover and take a breather. I called Sandpipers for help with the security deposit. Jill at CSCRB advocated for me, and the Sandpipers board decided to give us so much more. We received a $500 Ralph’s gift card, three month’s rent, and even $350 to spend at Kohl’s for our new place. It was so thoughtful and fun to be able to purchase things like new towels,” she explains.
Additionally, CSCRB also provided funds, as did St. Margaret Center in Lenox, allowing de Orla the time to stabilize financially and be accepted into a permanent housing program through the organization Brilliant Corners. This final achievement happened just a few weeks ago, she says.
“My cancer is advanced, and I need further surgery, which now that I’m stable and housed, I’ve scheduled for around Thanksgiving,” de Orla adds.
In the meantime, she is staying busy advocating for others in her situation.
“My talk at the upcoming CSCRB Girl’s Night Out fund raiser is a miraculous opportunity for me to give back, and raise awareness for women fighting cancer and homelessness. I was a broadcast journalist, and I want to devote myself to spreading awareness. People die of cancer and of homelessness, and the combination of the two is devastating. If I can help CSCRB raise funds for women in that situation, it’s a privilege.”
She wants to share one strong message with others struggling with cancer, homelessness, or both:
“Don’t leave five minutes before the miracle happens. Keep persevering and fighting one day at a time.” She adds “I just want to give back. We’re a success story. We’re a miracle.”
De Orla will be speaking on Thursday, Oct. 4 as a part of CSCRB’s three-day Girls Night Out “Fun” Raiser. The 16th annual event will be held at The Comedy and Magic Club, 1018 Hermosa Avenue, Hermosa Beach, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Oct. 2-4.
For more information, call 310-376-3550 or visit GirlsNightOutCSCRB.org to purchase tickets.