There’s no place like home — especially when you’re facing illness. But for patients who don’t live in communities close to a major hospital, staying at home during cancer treatment isn’t always an option. Finding a comfortable place to lodge in a strange city with no real expectation of how long treatment may take can be a major source of anxiety for patients and their caregivers.
Enter Elaine Moses, who provides complimentary accommodation to out-of-town patients who need to access treatment in Calgary. After watching the struggles her own father faced when he needed to travel from Drumheller to Calgary for cancer care, Moses decided to invest in a condo near the Foothills Medical Centre and the Alberta Children’s Hospital. She now offers accommodation to people facing long-term treatment.
While Moses does welcome patients being treated for other medical problems, she prefers to house families who need to be in treatment for at least a month and are most affected by the burden of being away from home. As a result, the majority of her guests are cancer patients undergoing bone marrow transplants, a process that involves at least 100 days of treatment.
Over the past 11 years, Moses has housed more than 110 patients and their caregivers from across Canada. In recognition of that generosity, last year Moses was named as the inaugural winner of the Tricia Antonini Award, which is granted to individuals who have made a positive difference for bone marrow transplant patients at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre (all AHS staff members, as well as patients, family members, friends, people in the community, and for-profit and not-for-profit organizations are eligible for the prize).
“[Winning that award] was a surreal experience and was definitely a moment of awe that I will always hold in my heart,” Moses says.
Those staying at Moses’s accommodations live in a self-contained, two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit outfitted with bedding, basic supplies and staple pantry items. They’re welcome to stay as long as they need to, provided they’re in active treatment. All Moses asks for in return is that they extend some kindness to others when they’re able to.
“We offer it on a pay-it-forward basis, which they can honour in their own way,” Moses says. “It’s intended to be a gift, hoping that they respect the premises and leave it as they found it so that the next family can move in as quickly as possible.”
Moses started recruiting guests by putting up a notice in the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, but now guests are primarily referred to her by social workers or through word of mouth.
Maureen Vadnais and her husband, Frank Sloan, stayed in one of Moses’s condos for more than 150 days when Sloan needed treatment for a form of blood cancer called primary myelofibrosis. The couple farms in the County of St. Paul, which is northeast of Edmonton, and, with no family in Calgary, they had no idea where they’d be able to stay until they connected with Moses.
“It was such a huge stress relief when we found out that we could get into one of Elaine’s condos,” Vadnais says. “Everything we needed was there, and it was such a refuge. Being close to the river, it was nice to be able to go for a walk and clear my head.”
Vadnais has chosen to “pay it forward” by making 100 shirts for other stem cell transplant patients to wear during treatment, customized with snaps to accommodate PICC lines and other equipment. That lovely gesture completes the circle of kindness that Moses envisioned when setting up the accommodations.