They’ve traded big skies and Montana mountains for the Space Needle peeking over a city skyline, but Seattle is where Don and Beverly Shaw want to be. The two relocated from 2,688-strong Libby, Mont., to take advantage of the renowned medical expertise and patient care of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance — the treatment arm of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center — after Don was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia last summer.
The news came after the couple visited their son in Denver and the usually energetic Don was “beat, dead tired,” and plagued by a scrape that refused to heal. Don’s hematologist recommended he go to SCCA — “the best of the best” — for treatment.
Bev and Don have a large circle of family and friends in Montana, and when they arrived in Seattle in October, the two quickly found another at SCCA House, one of two patient housing facilities administered by SCCA. Pete Gross House is the other facility and is specially focused to meet the needs of patients such as those undergoing bone marrow transplants, whose significant immunosuppression requires more protection from infection.
Both houses strive to provide as homey an atmosphere as possible so patients and their families can come to Seattle for lifesaving treatment and remain focused on healing throughout their stay.
“They really bend over backwards to make you comfortable,” Bev said. “They know everyone is either a patient or a caregiver. They make you feel like family.”
To ensure guests’ creature comforts, the houses rely on philanthropy. Private gifts help support everything from building maintenance to new linens for the bedrooms and bathrooms. If patients run low on necessities like toiletries or nonperishable pantry items, donations fill the gaps.
“So many things about SCCA House appealed to us,” said Bev. It’s located close to SCCA, and the convenient shuttle prevents the couple, who are in their late 70s, from having to brave Seattle traffic. Several communal areas foster a “sense of camaraderie.” They can cook their own meals in the shared kitchen and take advantage of the exercise and media rooms, where they congregated with other residents to watch the recent Super Bowl. The pair even keeps in touch with a few friends they’ve made whose courses of treatment at SCCA have ended.
“I’m homesick,” Don admitted, but SCCA House’s welcoming atmosphere provides “the place to be sick if you have to be.” Don has so far undergone 10 rounds of chemotherapy. He’s hopeful that if his platelet and blood counts are high enough, and his doctors can coordinate further treatment with a hospital near Libby, he may be heading home soon.
He and Bev say they are thrilled with Don’s hematologist and oncologist, Dr. Fabiana Ostronoff, who also studies the genetic basis of certain types of blood cancers at Fred Hutch. And the SCCA nursing staff has also made them feel at home.
“A lot know us by name. It really warms you up,” said Don. Like members of an extended family, he happily teases with nurses, who, he said, know him as “a bit of a BS-er.”
Family is important to the couple, who met on a blind date and have been married for 56 years. The proud parents of five and grandparents of 14, they boast five great-grandchildren as well. “We have a beautiful family,” said Bev, and the strength of these ties has buoyed them through Don’s diagnosis and treatment.
His family has been there to brighten Don’s days. When he was an inpatient and sick of hospital food, a close family friend rushed out to buy Don’s favorite, a Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich, and blasted the car’s heater to keep the sandwich warm on the way back. When Don’s strength flagged, a grandson tricked out a walker with Montana plate — always a good conversation starter in the clinic hallways. Don is now much stronger, and he happily jokes with nurses who claim they can’t spot the cancer patient.
“We’re happy and fortunate our doctor said Seattle,” said Bev, to which Don quickly chimed in, “And that’s no BS!”
To help support patients and families during their stay in Seattle, you can donate items from the housing program wish list via Amazon.com. Your generous gift will be delivered straight to SCCA housing facilities and to the patients and families in need.
Reach staff writer Sabrina Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org.