Diem Brown was an MTV reality star who competed in several fitness challenge shows while battling ovarian cancer. She was diagnosed at age 22 and fought a public battle with the hopes of raising awareness and giving help to patients who find themselves face-to-face with the deadly disease.
During her treatment Diem founded MedGift, a website that originally was intended to be a ‘gift registry’ for patients but grew into much more.
Megan Brown, Diem’s older sister and a producer at Fox News, said that the website started with the intention of taking “the awkwardness out of asking” for help.
“She was surrounded by thousands of flowers and gifts and people reaching out saying, ‘How can I help you? What can I do?” said Megan, adding “She said ‘I felt awkward asking, I felt awkward answering them with, actually I need this.’”
After Deim’s death in November 2014, Megan took the website by the reins to honor her sister’s legacy.
“So we found out what works best when creating a MedGift page is having a friend or family member create it for you,” Megan told FoxNews.com. She said patients prefer that way because it removes the awkwardness of asking for help -- a feeling that Matthew and Gina Wargas of Long Island, New York, know all too well.
Just six weeks after the birth of their third daughter, Matthew, 38, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma.
“Everything just stopped and then went into another mode,” Matthew, a former Suffolk County police officer, told FoxNews.com. The Wargas’ neighbor had heard of MedGift and recommended it to the couple. At first, like many patients and caregivers, they were hesitant to ask for help.
“It was very uncomfortable,” Matthew said. “[It was] very hard for me because I was always the one helping. I was a cop for 13 years.”
“My girlfriend said ‘People want to help and they are going to help, so if they are sending a check in the mail or through this website, let people help if they want’ and the response was great,” Gina, 32, said.
The friend and another neighbor helped them build the page, which was a huge asset to the couple during their fight. The medical expenses as well as unexpected costs escalated for the couple quickly.
Matthew needed surgery but there weren’t any doctors on the East Coast who were able to perform the procedure. A doctor at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) was their only option. The family had to move cross country twice to help fight the disease, meaning that in addition the mortgage and car payments at home in Long Island, they had to rent an apartment and car in L.A. as well.
“I loved MedGift because there was all that money that I didn’t even know we were going to need,” Gina said, adding, “I would have never guessed we would have needed to rent an apartment. I don’t even know what we would have done.”
Megan wants to honor Deim’s wish for MedGift to be a one-stop-shop for patients and their caregivers. Apart from financial support, it’s designed to offer emotional and physical support as well.
One feature enables users to put the patient’s schedule into a calendar and indicate what they may need help with. Gina found this option very helpful when she found herself juggling three kids and a household while caring for Matthew, who had to relearn to read, write and walk after surgery
“Sometimes I would just put on there if someone wanted to make dinner for us tonight, that would be great or if someone just wanted to come paly with the kids so I can just grab an hour to myself,” she said.
This feature is something that Megan found useful herself when she was taking care of Diem. She said that the calendar helps a caregiver be a better caregiver by giving them a reprieve from the pressure.
This can also be a therapeutic help for the patient as well.
“You know, chemo is four hours long and it’s very undervalued when you think about somebody…that you just want to come and sit and hold your hand,” Megan said.
MedGift also gives patients a community and an outlet share stories. In some instances, it can lead to patients finding additional therapies and care. This was the case for Diem, who was able to find a trial through someone she met on MedGift. This trial put her cancer in remission for five years.
The Wargas’ are continuing their fight against cancer. It has been 18 months since Matthew’s diagnosis, but he is doing better than he has. Gina hopes that by sharing their story she can persuade other people who are embarrassed to ask for help to turn to MedGift.
Megan’s dream for MedGift and cancer patients is “to think this is obviously going to be hard. It’s going to be a challenge, but I have MedGift which means I have an entire support team.”
MedGift is free. For more information visit MedGift.com.
To visit Matthew's MedGift page, click here.