Guest Spotlight: No Strangers Here
Joe West and his wife of 37 years were enjoying retirement in Wilmington, NC, when he noticed some swelling in his neck area. The diagnosis: squamous cell carcinoma, one of the major forms of skin cancer.
Having recently retired to the NC coast from Richmond, Virginia, Joe and his wife Kay were flooded with emotion. What were they facing? What was going to happen next? How would the cancer be treated? After several meetings with their doctors at the beach, they were referred to UNC Hospital to finish the diagnostic work and to begin getting treatment. Joe’s medical team in Chapel Hill included Dr. Mark Weissler, head and neck surgeon, Dr. Bhishamjit, radiation oncologist, and Dr. Jared Weiss, medical oncologist.
From the moment they walked in, Kay says, everyone wrapped their arms around them, caring for them. Linda Burnette, one of our original House Managers, checked them in and showed them the ropes. “I couldn’t believe that total strangers were being so kind and gracious to me,” Joe said. “Every day I would walk in the door after treatment and everyone would want to know how I was doing, ask how I was feeling and what could they do to make my day better.”
For both Joe and Kay, Family House has been a vital source of support. Oftentimes they could be found in the dining room, meeting with patients and guests going through similar crises. “I can’t imagine going through this in a hotel where you’re alone without the love and support that you get here,” says Joe. “I truly believe that most of my healing happened right here in the house.”
When you’re given a cancer diagnosis, “you’re flooded with emotions and all those questions. It’s an emotionally draining experience,” Kay says. Yet, they felt that there couldn’t have been anything more complete in the treatment program than being able to stay at Family House.
As they were getting ready to go home after seven weeks of grueling treatments, Joe and Kay committed to giving back. They want to spend some of their retirement days volunteering at their local hospitality house, paying it back and helping the next person who is going through a serious illness.
Summing up what staying at Family House has meant to them, Joe says “love and support.” For Kay, staying here has meant “unconditional compassion.”