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Community cares for homeless woman with cancer

By Elena Watts
July 15, 2014 at 2:15 a.m.

Laser beams that pinpoint the area where radiation will be applied are tweaked into place using a preprogrammed computer analysis. Homeless and unable to qualify for any government assistance, Charity Corbitt's life turned around after Lisa Griffin with Mid-Coast Family Services worked to get Corbitt medical treatment.

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Charity Corbitt, 43, was homeless and penniless when her throat began to feel incessantly sore. Pain in her ears, her jaw and her head soon joined her scratchy throat and dry cough.

In March, Corbitt visited Christ's Kitchen as she had many times during the past two years.

The only difference that day was that Corbitt waited on results of a biopsy, and she knew in her heart that she had cancer.

She confided her fears in Trish Hastings, assistant executive director of Christ's Kitchen, just as Ginny Stafford, chief executive officer of Mid-Coast Family Services, arrived.

"I told them I was all by myself now - my husband left when I got sick - and that I was done," Corbitt said. "And Ginny swooped in and scooped me up."

By the end of the day, Corbitt had an apartment, a bed, a warm bath and a renewed faith in God.

"I was mad at God - a skeptic," she said. "But I think He's up there."

Lisa Griffin, an intervention specialist for Mid-Coast Family Services, became Corbitt's champion. She secured food stamps for her, submitted applications for disability benefits on her behalf and enlisted Lisa Campbell, a community health nurse, to find an oncologist.

"She deserves everything," Griffin said. "There are resources, and I am happy to show her where those resources are."

Dr. Fariborz Gorouhi, an oncologist that Griffin described as kind and generous, agreed to treat the slight, 4-foot-11-inch patient at no cost. Dr. David Janssen, another oncologist, also contributed to her treatment.

Biopsies revealed stage 2 laryngeal cancer and stage 3 lymph node cancer, Corbitt said. Corbitt began chemotherapy and radiation treatments through the charity program at Citizens Medical Center, which charged her 1 percent of the expense. Mid-Coast paid the bill.

"They're angels and miracles," Corbitt said. "God did something that day when he handed Lisa to me."

Corbitt lived in a shed behind her father's house and later in a van parked in his driveway.

She became homeless and slept under a "nasty dock with trash and animals" when her father became sick

"He's everything to me," she said. "He took me in."

However, Corbitt's troubles began much earlier in life. Gulf Bend Center diagnosed her at the age of 6 with manic depressive and bipolar disorders.

Her mother was a severe alcoholic who disappeared for long periods of time and embarrassed her in front of her friends. Corbitt also endured sexual molestation.

At 11, she began smoking more than a pack of cigarettes per day. Her drinking started later, at age 15, and progressed more slowly than the smoking.

Corbitt dropped out of school after the eighth grade. At 16, she found a job dancing in a local night club, where she worked for a decade. She eventually tired of the job and found work at a dollar store and the Texas Zoo. She married four times and had three sons.

"I supported all of them," she said. "I never had a husband who supported me."

In her 30s, Corbitt began cutting herself to ease her inner pain. With help, she stopped after a few years. Her arms remain riddled with white scars.

"I'm still alive; I still bleed red," she said in an attempt to describe her thoughts while she was cutting.

Mid-Coast Family Services is a nonprofit organization that helps homeless women with mental, physical and developmental disabilities. Nine apartments offer shelter for about a dozen women each year. The rent is 10 percent of whatever money the women bring in each month, and case managers help them obtain services they need.

Help for Corbitt came from Citizens Medical Center, the American Cancer Society and Harding and Parker Pharmacy, among other individuals and businesses.

"It's amazing that no one cares for years - the ones who are supposed to care," Corbitt said. "And then total strangers love you more than anyone else."

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