The Little Pink Houses of Hope, which offers retreats for cancer patients and their families, recently made a difference in the lives of 20 people thanks to the generosity of this community.
The Burlington, N.C., group brought six families to Key West this week from all over the country.
"I lived here previously and knew this was a community that would embrace our program," coordinator Charlie Ball said. "St. Paul's has been a tremendous help opening the facility, providing meals, and connecting with the community. Lazy Dog, which provided paddleboard lessons, was amazing too, and everyone here greeted us with open arms."
The Key West Community Sailing Center also got involved, the nonprofit's staff said.
"When I was contacted by Charlie Ball, I said, 'Sure, I can help,' and offered the center for a day, for a week, and it went fabulous," said Commodore Jeff Minalga. "They were a warm and gracious group of people."
The nonprofit was established in 2009 by President Jeanine Patten-Coble, a breast cancer survivor, mother and wife.
Patten-Coble said she founded the organization due to a lack of services for families coping with all that comes with battling cancer.
"There is nothing for caregivers and children," she said. "With large medical costs, they cannot afford to have a retreat because the financial burden is so large."
Breast cancer treatment can cost $100,000 a year, and a mastectomy can range from $15,000 to $50,000, according to an article from bloomberg.com, referencing a 2009 study.
"The reality is, as a mother, the thing you are most worried about is leaving the people you love behind," Patten-Coble said. "When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my whole family was diagnosed with breast cancer."
Ohioan cancer patient Barb Rooney, her husband, Chris, son, Joshua, and daughter, Maya, came on the Key West retreat.
Rooney said it was amazing to get away from everything, especially the "normal" routine of battling the disease.
"I get a week off treatment," she said. "Our favorite part is coming to the beach. We forget everything when we are here."
She also said her appetite improved drastically, and that it was empowering learning how to paddleboard.
Marlene Abele, accompanied by her wife, Peggy Marion, has been undergoing chemotherapy for the past year and a half and hadn't been outside until this trip. She described it as a "miracle."
"I don't think I've stopped smiling since I've been here, and have so much more energy than I expected," Abele said.
"This is one of the best weeks of our lives," Marion said. "It's like our second honeymoon."
In some cases, participants take it a step further. Rebecca, a survivor who didn't want to give her last name, was inspired to start her own organization, lending recliners to cancer patients. She is working on getting the group up and running.
"Little Pink Houses of Hope has given me hope and planted a seed for me starting my own organization, providing mobilized recliners after surgery," she said. "The surgery can make you unable to move, and it's so hard to get out of the chair with the extreme pain."
The expansion of the program to Key West has been successful, organizers said, and they plan to do it again next year. The more residents who open their homes to the families, the more people organizers can bring down.
"Any family or any person in Key West that would be willing to donate their house next year would be greatly appreciated," Patten-Coble said, "The amount of families that can attend solely depends on the number of homes we can put them in."
For more information about Little Pink Houses of Hope, visit littlepink.org.
Alex Press, a summer intern at The Citizen, is a recent graduate of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.