The guests who stay at Kathy’s House each face their own unique health challenge. Their stories are often extraordinary. We are honored to be a part of them. Below are stories we have received from some of our guests.
If you are a current or former guest of Kathy’s House, we invite you to share your experience.
Dana From Sheboygan
This time last year, "cancer free" was just a dream for Dana Bayer.
The 35-year-old Sheboygan woman was midway through a second round of treatment for Lymphoma, a cancer of the central nervous system. First diagnosed in April, it was treated at St. Nicholas Hospital in Sheboygan and went into remission for nine months.
Then it returned with a vengeance in July 2015.
That put Dana back in the hospital - this time, Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, 62 miles from home. There, she would undergo a complex procedure called an Autologous Transplant. Doctors would remove blood-forming stem cells from her body and treat them. Then they'd subject her lymphoma to high doses of chemotherapy - in Dana's case eight chemotherapies over four days. Later, her treated stem cells would be returned to her body, so her bone marrow could begin to produce new blood cells.
All told, the process would take two months, and she'd live near the hospital - an hour and half away from her husband and three young sons.
"I don't know what I would have done without Kathy's House," says Dana. The Wauwatosa facility served as home-away-from-home for the Bayers, freeing them from excessive transportation and lodging costs. Kathy's House hosted Dana between hospital stays and Ryan during visits to Dana in the Blood and Bone Marrow Transplant Unit.
But Beyond food and lodging, Kathy's House gave the Bayer's something special: a place to celebrate Christmas with their three young sons - Owin 5, Eli 7 and Riley 10. And the festivities went beyond presents and Christmas dinner. Since the boys were staying till Dana's release seven days later, Kathy's House staff went all out, giving the youngsters a holiday week they won't soon forget.
"Kathy's House got us tickets to the museum, the zoo and Discovery World," marvels Dana. "They gave us passes to all those places. It was the best thing ever for my boys."
"My youngest had never been to the Milwaukee Zoo and he flipped out over everything he saw - including a polar bear's birthday party. And none of the boys had ever been to Discovery World. They all went crazy over that. It was very, very cool!"
Husband Ryan, now 37, echoes the sentiment, describing Kathy's House as "massively helpful," especially during the holiday week, adding "I love that place."
Dana was officially released from treatment on New Year's Day 2016. That's when she and her family said goodbye to Kathy's House and returned home. Today she is cancer free, which means this Christmas will be an extra special one for the family. but grateful memories will always remain, says Dana, because "we owe a lot to Kathy's House." Her husband, Ryan, agrees. "Because they did so much for us, we said we've got to do something for them. So, we do- we find as many ways as we can."
Sarah From Texas
Sarah Lloyd never felt so sick in her life. A mysterious liver disease was ravaging her system. Then a pancreatic cyst was discovered. That set off alarm bells -- a similar combination had led to her grandmother's death.
Unfortunately, Sarah's Texas doctors couldn't agree on a path to treatment. One proposed extensive surgery. Another said she was too ill, and prescribed frequent, lifelong surveillance. For a third opinion, she reached out to someone she met years earlier - Dr. Evans, an expert in pancreatic cancer and tumors of the endocrine system. She tracked him down at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee. And even though that was 1,100 miles from home and family, she decided to follow him.
Although a health care professional herself (a medical scientist with a pharmaceutical company), Sarah had little personal experience with serious illness. "I didn't know that when you're sick - really sick - everything gets incredibly difficult." While on the phone arranging her Milwaukee consultation visit, she asked about lodging. "I said I was sick, lived out of state, and was too ill to function at times. Where could I stay? I couldn't imagine a hotel; I needed a place where people could help me out." Froedtert staff recommended Kathy's House, and took care of the arrangements for her.
Sarah needed the help. "I felt so bad, I barely made it up there on the plane," she remebers. "I didn't know what was going to happen if I got bad news or needed frequent surveillance in Wisconsin. I was thinking I'd have to buy a house up there - but I couldn't afford that."
Surgery and initial recovery required three weeks - with much of the time spent at Kathy's House.
"It's a phenomenal environment for recovery," she says, recalling the beautiful flowers, homey surroundings and pleasant walking trails. She appreciated practical features too, such as buttons that opened heavy doors automatically. "There were so many small things that made a huge difference," starting with a staff member who stayed late to greet her. "I arrived with no groceries, but there were fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, chef-cooked bakery items and a fully stocked pantry."
Sarah also appreciated her patient lifestyle. "I had to be in my room a lot because I just wasn't feeling well. But there, I could walk down the hall in my pajamas, grab something to eat, and go back to my room. Or I could sit in the lounge, flip through magazines - whatever. It's like home - but it's better than home. And it's better than a hotel," she says.
"Volunteers and residents checked up on me. They'd help me, take me to the store, or transport me." She relied on Kathy's House for most transportation to and from doctor's visits. And was especially grateful for what occurred the day of her surgery. When bad weather delayed her daughter's flight into Milwaukee, volunteers stepped in to fill the void. "they sat with me in pre-op for two hours, making sure I had everything I needed," she marvels. "They really went the extra mile."
Sarah concludes, "Only because of Kathy's House, was I able to get the best care with the best surgeon, Dr. Douglas Evans, at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin. I had an exceptionally positive outcome."
Steve and Wendy Continue to Support Kathy's House
"I slept at the hospital the first few days and didn't get much sleep. Then an ICU nurse told me about Kathy's House. It was close to the hospital and incredibly convenient," said Wendy. "Most often I would go there, take a shower, get some sleep, grab some food and head right back to the hospital. Yet even though I wasn't there much, while I was there, Kathy's House had everything I needed. It is a kind and gentle place."
Many of Wendy and Steven's friends wanted to send flowers or balloons to Steve but Wendy encouraged them to send money to Kathy's House. "I found deflating balloons and dying flowers rather depressing as Steve wasn't able to leave the Hospital for so long, and a gift to Kathy's House felt useful," said Wendy.
Steve is now fully recovered and is back to work at Cisco in Green Bay.
In 2013, Wendy incorporated a Kathy's House donation into an annual writing conference she holds called Weetacon, now in its 12th year. As a result, the Weetacon Tribe has donated $5,625 for new beds while she was here "were like sleeping on shoes."
This year, the Weetacon bed fund paid for the new bedding when Steinhafels and TemperPedic donated new mattresses. Thank you Weetacon Tribe! We hope they will continue to raise funds to replace worn stands and desks in the guest suites, many donated to the House 15 years ago when we opened.
You check out Wendy's blog about her stay at Kathy's House here.
A Family from Texas
Veronica Olivarez and her husband were so impressed with Kathy's House, they put it on their bucket list. "Eventually, we're going back there to volunteer" she says. And no wonder, it was the Texas couple's home-away-from-home when they needed it most - the brain surgery of their 22-year old daughter.
As high school Junior, Andrea Olivarez began experiencing severe nausea and vomiting. And as time went by her condition worsened. Her family consulted a parade of specialists - including a psychologist (in case the condition was somehow psychosomatic.) But seven years went by with no answers.
Meanwhile, Andrea managed to graduate high school and "stumble" her way through college. "I say stumbled," says Veronica, "because she was probably sick 85 to 90% of the time." Finally, in March 2015, an MRI pinpointed a rare congenital condition; Chiari Malformation. With Chiari, the skull is structurally too small to accommodate the brain. So brain tissue forces itself into the spinal column.
The diagnosis led to the Wisconsin Chiari Center, and to Kathy's House - where the family resided during Andrea's treatment. There - even though she faced brain surgery - the family found peace of mind.
"My daughter says Kathy's House is like staying at Grandma's, with warm blankets wrapped around you. You know, nothing matches at Grandma's - but you don't care. Because everything feels good."
Kathy's House lifted a huge load for the family. "We had a tremendous sense of peace the entire time we were there, feeling the power of prayer and the power of love." That included Andrea, who found journals with notes left by past residents. "While going through one, she came across comments from another guest who'd had Chiari," reports Veronica. "That comforted Andrea tremendously."
The 22-year old headed into surgery with big plans - a June wedding for her and with her fiance. But Andrea bravely offered him a way out, saying no one knew what she'd be like after the operation. But he told her he signed for the duration.
During her 10-day hospital stay, the family never left her side. "We knew our belongings were safe and secure back at Kathy's House," says Veronica. And weeks later when they returned to Milwaukee for a follow -up visit, the family stayed at Kathy's House again. Each time they found something to marvel at.
"One guest was like everyone's grandma," remembers Veronica. "So sweet and full of love. Another woman's husband was there for cancer treatment. She had two little kids 4-5 years old, and you know how restless kids get. Well everyone at Kathy's House adopted them. They even had little bicycles for them to use."
A year on, Veronica's still taken by the facility. "Everyone has their own journey at Kathy's House -- but everyone shares the heartaches. It's a special place."
Today Andrea is fully recovered, and happily married. And Mom and Dad? They still have Kathy's House on their bucket list.
"When you're going through cancer, it's nice to be around other people who are also going bald and having the same struggles you are."
So says Jane Cummings, author of "A Walk into Grace" and recent guest at Kathy's House.
Jane lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin a two-hour drive from Milwaukee where she came for treatment. Normally that drive would have been easy. "But I had to take radiation treatments at Froedtert Hospital every day for six weeks," she explains. "I could hardly work and handle a 4-hour round-trip drive every day."
Kathy's House provided the home away-from-home she needed.
Like many patients, Jane came to Milwaukee alone. So personal safety and security was a major concern. She needed a place to stay where both she and her possessions were safe. She also knew she needed the human touch-emotional support.
"When you have cancer, you feel isolated and alone in your battle. Friends -- and even family -- tend to back off to give you space. When what you really need is attention and love." All too often, patient and care giver find themselves backing away from one another, with unintended consequences. Jane discovered that in her own family.
"Even my sister in-law didn't know how to deal with my illness. Sometimes as a patient you have to reach out to them - to tell your friends and family what you need. I had to go to her and say, 'Hey, what you're doing is hurting me.'"
Kathy's House provided a much needed antidote. "It felt so good to be around other people going through the same thing. You could talk. You could share. And the atmosphere there, the people who run it, the volunteers, they were so kind and giving."
Jane's experience with cancer was so profound, it's inspired her to write another book. This one will be about patient/caregiver relationships. "I', calling it Bridging the Gap," she says.
Meanwhile, she has good news" "I'm now cancer free!" Jane reports. And adds, "I'm convinced Kathy's House played a big part in that."
Nick and Nancy Niehm
Watching his wife suffer was difficult. “You’re sitting on the outside of someone with a life threatening disease. You can see their fear and pain, but all you can do is watch. You have no way to help – just hold their hand. So, to be able to have a place to go back to – to just be by yourself, and let the rest of the world go by – that was wonderful. It’s hard to describe how important that kind of kindness is.”
Kathy’s House was that kind of place for Nick Diehm.
He became acquainted with it when he and his wife Nancy spent a month in Milwaukee – hours from their northern Michigan home – for her bone cancer treatment. “The folks at Froedert Hospital did a marvelous job for Nancy,” says Nick, and “the folks at Kathy’s House did a marvelous job for me.”
Among the many things he remembers are his daily walks there. “It was so convenient for me to get out and walk to the hospital,” he says. “I walked every day. Those were very therapeutic hikes. I could go back and forth as I felt I needed to.”
The couple heard about Kathy’s House from, of all people, their stockbroker, a long-time supporter of the organization. “He was very familiar with them and their process,” says Nick. “When we arrived there everything was ready. I ended up staying 31 days.”
The Diehms have great things to say about Kathy’s House. “The staff there is very accommodating and very kind,” says Nick. “There was no pressure for me. They didn’t interfere.” More importantly, says the former Funeral Home operator, “they didn’t try to make things better. They allowed what needed to happen … to happen. The just provided the support structure people need.”
During Nancy’s weeks in Milwaukee, Nick had to return home several times to attend to personal matters. On one occasion he called his barber for a visit. “Nancy was about to lose all her hair from her treatments, and I knew that was going to be a hell of a day for her,” he says. “So I had my barber cut mine as close to my scalp as she could. When I returned to the hospital we were in it together -- two balding old farts.”
So is Nancy better these days?
“Yes,” says Nick. "She’s bossier than hell. But I deserve that.”
“Kathy’s House made a trying time so much easier,” says Nick. “It’s so convenient for people – taking care of things you don’t have to worry about. It let me concentrate on the only thing that really mattered: What’s going to happen to the love of my life?’”
In addition to keeping Kathy’s House in their hearts, the Diehms support it with their gifts. “When I left, I gave them $100 for every day I was there,” Nick says. “And now, every Christmas, we send them a card and a $500 check.”
Wayne and Jean
Wayne and his wife Jean, from Plymouth Wisconsin were at Kathy’s House for several months. Wayne received a bone marrow transplant and was inpatient at Froedtert Hospital for a couple of weeks. During that time Jean stayed at Kathy’s House. Then they are both stayed at Kathy’s House as Wayne had to be within 45 minutes of Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Wayne is very grateful to the donor who gave him new bone marrow, to Dr. Hari and everyone involved in his care at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin and to Kathy’s House. “I don’t know what we would have done without Kathy’s House,” said Wayne. Jean’s ability to be nearby provided critical support to Wayne. “At other hospitals, before coming to Froedtert, I stayed in the hospital room. Kathy’s House is so much better!” continued Jean.
In Plymouth, population around 8400, where Wayne and Jean both grew up, “everyone knows everyone else,” Jean said. “Kathy’s House provided the same camaraderie I experience every day in Plymouth. I’m always surrounded by family and friends. It was helpful that other guests at Kathy’s House were going through the same treatment so we could share stories about the ups and downs of healing.”
Jean really appreciated all of the meals made by volunteers during her stay. She also liked that Kathy’s House is in a nice, quiet neighborhood where she and Wayne felt free to go for a walk and yet were only a mile away from Froedtert Hospital.