In the midst of radiation treatments that made her feel sick and a daunting cancer diagnosis hovering over her, Amanda DeRudder found comfort and solace in her home away from home.
During DeRudder’s nearly five weeks of radiation treatment two years ago for breast cancer, she stayed at Sorrentino’s Compassion House for women in Edmonton.
The house is described as a haven for rural women who have to travel more than 50 km for cancer treatments only available in the city.
“Hinton doesn’t offer radiation for treatments. I was given, I think, 42 treatments. I had to stay in Edmonton for a long time,” said DeRudder.
She originally heard about the house through a coworker and then Hinton’s cancer clinic also recommended the house to her.
“This house gave me company with people that are experiencing the same thing, so you’re not going home and being alone in a hotel room,” said DeRudder.
Sorrentino’s is more than just a place for women to stay throughout their treatment, it’s a place for them to come together and support each other throughout their individual journeys, explained Michelle Okere, chief executive officer of the Compassion House Foundation at a presentation to the Hinton Rotary on Jan. 8.
“I think the really beautiful thing is the relationships that are built and the understanding and support you get from women that are going through the same thing that you are during that time,” she said.
The house was originally created to support women with breast cancer, but it has since been opened up to women with any type of cancer.
DeRudder added that the house is important not only because it’s a more affordable place to stay, but mainly because of the camaraderie.
“It’s super important because if you don’t have the camaraderie to get through this, you get really sick and you might not make it out,” she said.
DeRudder met some people at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton who were receiving radiation treatments like her but were staying at a hotel. They felt very alone and longed to go home, they told her.
Her experience was different because she had a place to go where she was surrounded by others.
She added that it would’ve been tough to travel anywhere when she was feeling exhausted and burned out from her treatments.
“I wouldn’t have been able to talk to people that were doing the same thing as me, exchanging different secrets to deal with the burns, how to fix your head because you’re bald, how to put your wig on, and I don’t think I would have been as happy, been as comfortable, been healed quite as well,” she said.
When she finally came back to Hinton after her treatments were finished, she was welcomed home by a house full of friends and family.
Seventy women from the community of Hinton have stayed at Sorrentino’s Compassion House during their cancer journeys since it opened in 2002, which is part of the reason why the Hinton Rotary planned its fundraiser and awareness campaign for the house.
Eighty to 90 women are still being turned away each year, said Okere, but they do provide them with different options. The house started with five suites, and they now have suites for 15 women.
Future plans for the foundation are to build more suites in neighbouring houses. The Foundation is also involved in helping women go back to normal life in their communities through various programs.
“Twenty per cent of cancer survivors are struggling with anxiety, depression or PTSD. It’s really common,” said Okere.
Most of the treatments received by women in the house are five weeks of radiation. The Cross Cancer Institute for treatments is close by and offers free shuttles to and from the house. The foundation charges $35 per night, which is minimal compared to the cost of a five week stay at a hotel.
“One lady there could barely afford to buy groceries and that house had the funds and the donations to help her get some food and made sure she was being taken care of,” said DeRudder.
A fund is available for those who can’t afford their stay, travel, uncovered medical expenses, or even groceries.
“We never want finances to be the reason someone chooses not to go in for treatment,” said Okere.
To operate the house, it costs about $135 per night, per suite, which is why they work hard all year to raise funds.
“Over the course of the year we have to bring in $650,000 to cover those costs,” said Okere.
The Hinton Rotary is raising funds for Sorrentino’s during the Winter Magic Festival.
The fundraiser, Cup for Compassion House, will donate coffee and tea sale proceeds from various coffee-serving restaurants in Hinton to the Compassion House.
Rotarian Bernie Kreiner explained at the Rotary meeting on Jan. 8 that Smitty’s will run the fundraiser for two days with 100 per cent of the sales going towards the foundation, while A&W is dropping the price of coffee to one dollar to run a special campaign for seven days from Feb. 7 to Feb. 15.
Volunteers will help serve coffee/tea and also share information about Compassion House. For more information on the foundation, go to compassionhouse.org.
The fundraiser in Hinton officially kicks off on Feb. 7, go to Hinton Rotary Facebook for more information. Donations during all of February are encouraged at Ascend LLP, King Drug, and Zamas Health Foods.
All donations of $40 or more during February will be entered into a draw for three prizes, including a locally made quilt, a $400 supply of Starbucks coffee beans and two tickets to the fall Fashion for Compassion 2020 event in Edmonton.