BRECKENRIDGE - Local resident Kathy Grotemeyer was lucky. She didn't need chemotherapy to treat the breast cancer she was diagnosed with in 2004. After surgery last February, all she needed was radiation treatment to shrink the cancerous cells.Unfortunately, radiation therapy is unavailable in Summit County. Until five years ago, the only option for local residents with cancer was travel to the Front Range. In July 2001, the Shaw Regional Cancer Center, a state-of-the-art outpatient cancer treatment facility affiliated with Vail Valley Medical Center, opened its doors in Edwards.For her course of radiation, Grotemeyer, 48, chose to go west. She made the one-hour trek to Edwards five times a week for six weeks. "Fortunately, I have wonderful friends," she said. "I had someone drive me every day." Even so, the frequent trips took their toll."At the very end, I was not feeling well. I was tired and had burns from the radiation," she said.The stress of receiving daily outpatient cancer treatments can be physically and emotionally overwhelming, said Cheryl Jensen, co-chair of marketing and development for the Shaw Outreach Team, a volunteer group organized to support the cancer center. Adding a two- to four-hour round-trip to each day's regimen makes the process that much more difficult."Twenty-five percent of all the center's patients come from Summit County," Jensen said. "And you can't do that drive alone."
In 2003, at the suggestion of Shaw's medical oncologist, Dr. Patricia Hardenbergh, the Shaw Outreach Team began to investigate possible solutions for patients adversely affected by frequent long distance travel, but who were not sick enough to be admitted to the hospital."We thought we'd buy a condo," Jensen said. "Then we realized we really needed a house."Three years of fundraising, thousands of hours of planning and the generosity of numerous businesses and individuals culminated Wednesday in the official groundbreaking ceremony for the Cancer Caring House, a 12-bedroom, 11,000-square-foot facility to be constructed adjacent to the Shaw center in Edwards.Jensen and the Outreach Team carefully researched the subject of accommodations for cancer patients as they raised money."Eighty percent of all cancer treatment centers have some form of lodging," she said. "And these places are always full from day one."So far, the team has raised $3.95 million, just shy of its goal of $4.2 million."Vail Valley Medical Center was one of the first big donors," Jensen said. "We had to have a spot adjacent to the cancer center and they donated the land." The vast majority of donations have come from the Vail area, she added.The goal amount includes a $1 million endowment, which Jensen said is already in place, to maintain and operate the house.
Jensen projects the house will be open for business in July 2007. In addition to its 12 bedrooms, house plans include a meditation room, yoga room, library, community room, meeting room and a resident-manager apartment."The idea is to be not just convenient," Jensen said, "but also supportive. We can take care of the patient's and their caregiver's needs."Because the facility will be for those receiving outpatient treatment, no nursing staff will be available. Jensen said the cancer support groups already meeting at the center will probably move across the parking lot to the caring house.There will be no charge for patients and their caregivers to stay in the house, but a voluntary fee of $25 a night will be suggested.Summit County's Grotemeyer, although given a clean bill of health and no longer requiring treatment, has recently gotten involved with the Shaw Outreach Team.She and Laurel Harris, a registered nurse and Breckenridge resident, are seeking to raise awareness on this side of Vail Pass for the caring house project."The Shaw Center is definitely better than going to Denver," Grotemeyer said. "I would recommend it to anybody." I-70 is probably the biggest obstacle for going there, however, she added."A big thing is weather," Harris said. "People feel sick doing the pass, even if someone else is driving."
Grotemeyer said there were times during her treatment when she definitely would have stayed in Edwards had accommodations like the caring house been available.The Outreach team plans to continue its fundraising efforts."We want to encourage donations, no matter how small," Jensen said. "Every dollar goes into bricks and mortar. There are no administrative costs." After all, she said, "everyone's life has been touched by cancer."For more information about the Cancer Caring House, call (970) 569-7492, or visit the facility's website at www.cancercaringhouse.org. Harriet Hamilton can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13624, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.