Safe and secure

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“You never think something bad will happen to you, especially when you feel strong and healthy.” In 2008, this is what Marie Perez was thinking when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. A long-time resident of Miami, Florida, this retired pre-school teacher was totally devastated to get this dire news. Yet, being true to herself and having the support of the love of her life, Frank, her husband of 40 years, and her children, she vowed to beat this awful disease that affects 1 in 8 women in the U.S.

Frank and MarieMarie’s story is sadly not that uncommon. Initially told by her family doctor that everything was fine, she asked him to run more tests since she had a feeling that something wasn’t right. After a biopsy and an ultrasound, her doctor shared with her over the telephone that she had breast cancer. Her son told her that the best place for her to be treated was at UNC Hospitals.

Forward one year. Since 2009, Marie and Frank have been periodic guests of ours. Their journey has been a long and complicated one. Marie has endured a mastectomy, reconstruction, chemotherapy, radiation, a lupus diagnosis, clinical trial drugs, a recurrence of the disease and several infections. Thankfully, she’s at a point in her treatment now where she and Frank make the drive up to Chapel Hill from Miami for follow-up visits every several months.

Marie tells us that Family House takes care of her emotional needs. Quickly becoming friends with the volunteers, staff and several of the guests, each visit has taken a life of its own: doctor’s visits, Costco runs to donate needed wish list items, shared meals and long conversations with guests, volunteers and staff. “I share my story and cry with the other guests. I’ve gotten to know so many people who’ve stayed here.”

When asked what keeps her so positive, Marie says that she always tries to be happy by thinking about what is right in front of her. She feels that you can’t move forward when you feel sorry for yourself. “I’m always thinking about how I’m going to make someone happy. Giving love to other people makes me happy and keeps me strong.”

Marie and Frank feel that there’s sense of community when they stay at Family House: nutritious meals provided by our many meal providers, pet therapy dogs, reiki, baking sessions with Donna and Vidy and live music. They feel that the house has one thing in common and that is to “make people feel safe and welcome.” For first time guests, Marie tells them not to worry. “You’ll be safe here. My name is Marie, I’m in room ___ and if you need someone to talk to, this is where you can find me.”

Asked what Family House means to them in one word, Marie and Frank reply: “sanctuary.” “This place gives you a sanctuary for your soul. It’s a place of healing and you feel safe and secure here.”


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