October is often referred to as ‘Pinktober’ as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I mention this because, as a breast cancer survivor of eight years, it obviously strikes a chord with me on a personal level. Some of you can relate with me, remembering how traumatic it was to first go through several progressively invasive tests and finally receiving the phone call from my doctor letting me know that I was indeed diagnosed with cancer.
I was “lucky.” My cancer was found in the earliest stages because I had good preventative healthcare and, because of my early detection, I had options for treatment that might not have been available if I’d put off my annual mammogram.
I was privileged. I had the resources to get treatment. Dependable shelter and nutrition for recovery. A network of family and friends to help with childcare, meals, and errands. Full disclosure, it was a bit more difficult as my husband was ALSO diagnosed with cancer the same week I was. (We should have bought a lottery ticket, right?)
But still, six months later, after a bilateral mastectomy, I was getting back on my feet and trying to find my new normal. My son made a cartoon ‘Survivor Superhero’ for me, and while I didn’t feel very super, I managed to get to work and move on, perhaps a little wiser from the experience.
Now imagine my story, but take out the access to preventative healthcare so that diagnosis isn’t made until later cancer stages. Now imagine no dependable shelter or food. Now imagine no network of support.
This is all too frequently the story of the unhoused. The fastest growing demographic of unhoused people is senior women, often due to a health crisis.
If you have faced your own cancer (or other serious disease) diagnosis, you know that no matter how early the stage, treatment is painful and takes every ounce of energy for recovery. I couldn’t raise my arms or hold anything heavier than a cell phone for months. I cannot fathom trying to recover while living in a tent, not knowing how secure I am or where my next meal will be.
The ShelterCare Medical Recuperation (SMR) program works in partnership with Trillium, PacificSource, and PeaceHealth to identify literally homeless patients who have had traumatic diagnoses and treatments and need a safe, secure place to stay while they recover. These patients are recovering from cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, and many other serious health issues, but are not serious enough to need hospital care. ShelterCare staff provides housing search support for when they’re ready to leave SMR and helps them navigate the healthcare system so that they continue to receive ongoing health care as needed. We have only 19 units available…a drop in the bucket to meet the need.
So this October, as we wear our pink and promote breast cancer awareness, take a moment to think about what YOU would do if you got the worst news you could imagine…and had nowhere to go. Then thank the many people who make ShelterCare Medical Recuperation possible.
– Michelle Hankes, ShelterCare CEO