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'A home away from home' offered for cancer patients

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While the U.S. health-care system is known for bankrupting families in need of medical treatment, a similar trend is occurring in some parts of Canada.

Individuals across the country are refraining from cancer treatments entirely due to the associated medical cost.

“We've heard through our health-care partners that people will forgo treatment because they can't afford to stay [at an accommodation,]" said Stacey Grocholski, executive director of "A Port in the Storm.”

This is where Winnipeg's not-for-profit organization can help.

Similar to Tamarack House in Thunder Bay, the 14-suite accommodation is specifically for cancer patients living in rural areas who otherwise would need to book a hotel room to receive their treatment.

A majority of people “A Port in the Storm” supports are coming from Fort Frances, Kenora, Dryden, Sioux Lookout, and Red Lake.

“Northwestern Ontario is our first priority, along with people that are living way, way up north, and in northern Manitoba because of the distance,” noted Grocholski.

“We provide a safe haven for individuals and their families coming from this area.”

Grocholski, along with “A Port in the Storm” board member and former client Lawrence Traa, recently visited hospitals across the district to inform health-care providers about the service they provide.

To stay at “A Port in the Storm,” it costs $58 a night. Or if the client is third party-funded through Blue Cross or some form of insurance, it's $75 a night.

Compared to a hotel, the accommodation is very affordable. And all the rooms are equipped with a full-sized kitchen, living area, WiFi, parking, and access to laundry.

“A Port in the Storm” also is conveniently located just eight minutes from Winnipeg's two major hospital, and those who stay there are given transit passes to help navigate the city.

The organization is trying to provide the best experience possible to its clients as they undergo their cancer treatments.

We are creating “a home away from home” for everyone who walks through the door, said Grocholski.

Traa is one of the many cancer survivors who called “A Port in the Storm” home during his chemotherapy treatments.

“It gave me a place I can bring my family to," he recalled. ”It's my own apartment so I could come back from the treatment, have a nice nap, and make my own food.

“It was really nice and took away a lot of the anxiety I had with staying in a hotel,” he added.

There also is a genuine sense of community that is felt by clients who stay with “A Port in the Storm.”

Traa said the favourite part about his stay was the friendships he made with fellow clients.

“Five years ago, I was there for 14 months and the people who survived are still my friends today,” he noted.

The bond he and other clients shared as they went through their tough times is something he'll never forget.

Since finishing his treatments five years ago, Traa decided to give back to “A Port in the Storm” by becoming a board member and volunteer.

He initially was given 18 months to live after being diagnosed with brain tumor but has remained in good health ever since.

“I got into the two percentile that live longer than five years,” Traa enthused.

Being able to put his health first at “A Port in the Storm,” and stay optimistic, were two of the things that really helped him during his treatments.

“One of the best things for me was a positive attitude and being able to look after my health,” Traa reasoned.

“'A Port in the Storm' really helped me because they removed a lot of stress during that period of time.”

During his 14-month treatment, Traa had about $61,000 in out-of-pocket expense, which would have been even higher had he stayed in a hotel.

The cost of chemo drugs, living expenses, and being out of work is enough to push many families into bankruptcy.

Grocholski said she's glad to be providing affordable accommodations to families so they can focus on their health instead of the anxiety around their finances.

“I get to see people every day who are focusing on their health versus the stress of everything else,” she remarked.

"That brings comfort to me, knowing that we are helping as many people as possible during their time of a medical crisis.

“Some people are coming to us with life-threatening illnesses, right, like Lawrence did,” Grocholski added.

“It's very rewarding seeing that they come in very ill and get to go home healthy.”

“A Port in the Storm” has helped more than 850 people since opening in 2012, and is at 100 percent occupancy almost all the time.

But keeping it afloat isn't easy, with the organization receiving zero government funding.

The organization does fundraise but it's community groups and individual donors that really keep it going.

Grocholski currently is working on applying for grants as well as finding funding through other avenues.

It recently started the “Adopt-a-suite” program, where people can donate $5,000 a year to sponsor one of the suites to make it even more affordable for families to rent.

Through the “Adopt-a-suite” program, Grocholski hopes to eventually reduce the costs to rent a room from $50-$70 to $10-$20 a night.

For more information about the program or other ways to donate, call Grocholski at 1-204-231-0720.

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