“The House” at the International Mesothelioma Program (IMP): A House, A Home, A Haven

Being diagnosed with mesothelioma is understandably a frightening and stressful time for patients, their families and loved ones. Besides coping with medical issues and treatment plans, there are a myriad of practical matters to consider. One of the most pressing issues is deciding what to do about accommodations when it becomes necessary to travel to a medical center in a distant city, especially if for an extended period of time while undergoing testing, surgery, and other treatment and follow-up care. The cost of hotel rooms, even at special “medical rates,” can mount quickly, especially when the visits are frequent or prolonged. Dr. David Sugarbaker, the director and founder of the International Mesothelioma Program (IMP), and his entire team have made it part of their mission to address this concern for the patients they treat.

“The House”

There is a wonderful place right across the street from the main entrance to Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston, Massachusetts, affectionately referred to by mesothelioma patients and their families as “The House.” It is a haven of sorts, a place where patients and their families can live while they are in Boston undergoing treatment at the International Mesothelioma Program, and they soon find that it offers far more than shelter.

The attorneys from Galiher DeRobertis Waxman recently met with Dr. Sugarbaker and other doctors and researchers at the International Mesothelioma Program and had the opportunity to visit the “Meso House,” as it is fondly referred to by many patients and families. The house is a Boston triple decker located at 48 Francis Street. The 4,400 square foot house is owned by the hospital and, after renovation and remodeling, opened in the summer of 2008. The families of mesothelioma patients who are undergoing treatment can stay there for a modest donation of $30 per night. It is expected that they will stay for two weeks or more, before, during, and after mesothelioma surgery. We had high praise for the house: “The House is extremely comfortable and convenient for the patients and their families since it is right across the street from the entrance to the hospital. It is very nicely decorated and has a full kitchen with everything the families need to prepare their meals. One of our clients has been there for over three weeks now. He and his wife feel as though it’s a ‘home away from home’ for them.”

Each of the three floors accommodates three families, except the first floor which accommodates two. Each family has its own fully furnished bedroom. They share a comfortable living room, as well as a walk-out back deck with a table and chairs and a fully equipped kitchen with all major appliances.

The “Instant Support System”

Here families and patients have a chance to meet each other and to share their experiences. On-site housing coordinator Cristin O’Rourke calls the house “an instant support system.” Wives get together at the end of the day. People who are going through the same thing meet, encourage, and support each other. This is a time that can be lonely and frightening. Here, some of the burdens are lifted, the load is made lighter, and the sense of isolation is replaced by a sense of connection and shared bonds.

Attorney Rick DeRobertis found that, “Our client and his wife have become very close to the other families with whom they share the house. Theirs is a unique experience and one these families and caregivers so intimately understand. Each family has a sense of what the other is going through and provides a special kind of support.”

Families can take meals together and relax in the living room. They can retire to the peace and privacy of their quarters for needed rest. It offers respite for caregivers, who often find that their responsibilities are now 24/7, as they gather at the end of the day, perhaps just to share a moment or two with someone who knows what they are going through. The journey is a long one, but it need not be taken alone. They have friends. People care. And their medical team is right across the street. Its team members are part of “The House” too, as its nurses, counselors, chaplains, and social workers cross Francis Street, seeing to the care of their patients and their loved ones.

A Beautiful Home

“The House” is not merely a house, it is a beautiful home for patients and families, many of whom find themselves far away from their own homes in a strange city with very cold winters. “The House” thus becomes a haven, a place where the emotional support and care of those it shelters is paramount. The on-site housing coordinator, Cristin O’Rourke, is there to look after the guests’ needs and to help with their concerns. Upon arrival, each family is given a “resource packet,” which has helpful information on an array of subjects, including information about the city, transportation, the location of pharmacies, worship, and entertainment.

For reservations, contact social worker Charlene Haouiliya at (617) 732-5500, ext. 32819.