Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Why did you get involved with Family House?

We asked some of our Young Professional Advisory Council Member's (YPAC) "Why they decided to get involved with Family House?" There are many great organizations out there and these are just some of the reason's why they chose Family House:

"Since graduating college and ending the community service through my fraternity I wanted to get involved with an organization, but didn’t know where to start. In the fall of 2011 the CFA Society of San Francisco hosted a weekend volunteer event at Family House on 10th Ave.  After working there, seeing the families, and hearing the history of Family House, I knew this was an organization worth supporting. They provide a necessary assistance that is often overlooked. Being involved with YPAC has been a fulfilling experience. The people involved are a pleasure to work with and provide a noticeable impact to Family House."

-Paul Perrino, YPAC Member

"I became involved with Family House when my friend was receiving cancer treatment at UCSF.  During one of my hospital visits, we ate tacos his mom had cooked at Family House.  No matter where you are, there is always something wonderful about eating a delicious home cooked meal surrounded by family and friends.  I remember leaving the hospital and thinking, "Hospital visits aren't supposed to be fun."  It's amazing what Family House was able to facilitate; a gathering of family and friends, delicious food, and a comforting sense of normalcy.  I wanted to be apart of that.  Shortly after, I started volunteering at Family House."

-Erika Shue, Family Night Chair

"I originally became involved with Family House through my company (Triage Consulting Group) five years ago. Over the years I’ve volunteered at a number of Triage-sponsored fundraisers and activities and have become personally invested in Family House’s mission. I joined YPAC this year because I wanted to have the opportunity to invest more time with the families and be more consistently involved with this incredible organization. I LOVE Family House!"

-Erica Navarro, Membership Chair

Thank you YPAC! Your contribution to Family House is critical in providing a home away from home for families in crisis. Look for future entries from other YPAC member's.

Question: Why did you get involved with Family House?

Get involved with Family House! Learn more at http://www.familyhouseinc.org/volunteer.html

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Sweatshirt to Remember...

One of our families wrote a lovely story about the Family House Sweatshirt - enjoy!

"Whether perambulating through the Inner Sunset fog, playing an impromptu game of catch in Golden Gate Park, or hunkering down for a long winter's nap among the beeping IV pumps and bright lights of 7 Long, the Family House hooded sweatshirt is a sure hit.
The 50-50 Poly/Cotton fleece blend surrounds you in snuggly softness.  Oversize hood is perfect for screening out noise, light and cold drafts. (Our friends tell us it also serves a subtle cloak for tears, faces that betray emotions, or a beautiful bald head.)
The kangaroo pocket warms chilly hands and serves as a hideaway for your iPhone, Nook or PDA.
The embossed, two-tone Family House Logo is an attractive accent that is sure to draw respectful nods of acknowledgement from friends, strangers, and fellow travelers.  It also tells people your not a smash-and-grab thief or convenience store bandit.
Manufactured in Honduras.  Free."

-Dave Monicken 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Jarren Fogle's Inspiring Story

It only takes about ten seconds with Jarren Fogle to see that nothing— including his diagnosis with medulloblastoma— will slow him down.  Diagnosed earlier this summer at age two, Jarren started his treatment with surgery and three rounds of chemo in Madera.  But when a stem cell transplant and high-dose chemo were needed, he was transferred to UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital to finish his treatment.

Jarren is a bundle of energy, with an infectious smile that he hides behind his hands during a lively game of "peek-a-boo".  He snuggles up to his mom, Danielle, on a cozy chair in the Family House living room.  When asked about their time in the house, Danielle lights up.  After being secluded for three months in a hospital room in Madera, she was nervous to move into a house with other families.  But her worries were relieved once she arrived.  "It's a blessing to have the security, knowing that you have somewhere to stay when you're going through tough times like this."

Danielle instantly noticed a difference in her son once his tumor was removed— he began reciting his numbers and colors, even naming shapes that Danielle swears she never taught him!  These days, he’s got plenty to talk about, including all the details of his third birthday.  Jarren celebrated at Family House on November 14th, complete with a Mickey Mouse cake and a visit from his dad and grandma.  Next week, Jarren and Danielle hope to take a road trip to celebrate Thanksgiving at the home of another family who were living at Family House when they moved in.

Today, all traces of his tumor are gone.  And although he has a few more months of treatment, Danielle sees the light at the end of the tunnel and looks forward to her next chapter with a happy, healthy son.  “Most people never meet their hero,” she says, “but I gave birth to mine.”

Click here to learn more about Family House families:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A World Record Achieved: The Anderson Family Story

Erin Anderson admires the strength of her daughter, Haven, calling her "a Marine in a two-year old’s body."  Haven was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma on April 17, 2012, just two weeks after her second birthday. Treatment began in her hometown of Denver, Colorado, but she arrived at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital after her first round of chemo proved unsuccessful.

Haven is currently undergoing a groundbreaking two week treatment at UCSF— something that has never been performed on a child her age.  Erin feels blessed to have access to this level of care for her daughter.  Upon arriving at Family House she felt immediate relief because it feels like home to her family and allows them to be incredibly close to the hospital at all times.  She loves getting to know everyone at Family House.  “It feels like a little family because everyone is going through what you’re going through.”

One thing Haven has to look forward to when she goes home to Denver: recognition for a world record achieved in her name!  Erin’s colleagues, family, and friends created a fundraising event called “Shavin' for Haven”, which began on a small scale this May.  Erin’s fellow teachers pledged to shave their heads if they could meet their fundraising goals for Haven’s treatment.  After the fundraiser’s success, they applied to the Guinness Book of World Records and took the idea to a larger scale on October 22nd.  The Andersons blew the previous record out of the water and shaved 371 heads in one hour, all in honor of their incredible daughter.

Erin and her husband are so relieved to have all the resources that Family House offers— they don't have to worry about where they'll be able to shower, eat, and take a much-needed deep breath between stints at the hospital. As for their daughter? “This is not a kind of cancer you ever want to have,” Erin explains, “But we are incredibly hopeful and faithful that this will be a positive outcome for Haven.”

Click here to learn more about Family House families:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why I Became Involved with Family House - by Erika Shue

I became involved with Family House when my friend was receiving cancer treatment at UCSF.  During one of my hospital visits, we ate tacos his mom had cooked at Family House. No matter where you are, there is always something wonderful about eating a delicious home cooked meal surrounded by family and friends.  I remember leaving the hospital and thinking, "Hospital visits aren't supposed to be fun."  It's amazing what Family House was able to facilitate; a gathering of family and friends, delicious food, and a comforting sense of normalcy.  I wanted to be a part of that.  Shortly after, I started volunteering at Family House.  

 - Erika Shue

Get involved with Family House! Learn more at http://www.familyhouseinc.org/volunteer.html

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Moment of Inspiration


I awoke
this morning
in the gold light
turning this way
and that

thinking for
a moment
it was one
like any other.

the veil had gone
from my
darkened heart
I thought

it must have been the quiet
that filled my room,

it must have been
the first
easy rhythm
with which I breathed
myself to sleep,

it must have been
the prayer I said
speaking to the otherness
of the night.

I thought
this is the good day...

by David Whyte

Thursday, May 10, 2012


A screenshot from the game

                Here at Family House we recently got a donation that we can’t wait to share with our guests and anyone else who may have children battling cancer. It started with HopeLab (visit www.hopelab.org for more information), a nonprofit organization founded in 2001 and their mission to combine the highest standards of scientific research with innovative solutions to improve the health and quality of life of young people with chronic illness. They then developed a wonderful video game called Re-Mission (visit www.re-mission.net ) in which kids assume the role of Roxxi—an armed nanobot who works through various missions to battle colonies of microscopic cancer cells and save the healthy organs.  
This game focuses on helping the issue of medication adherence, which is a complex problem for teens and adolescents with cancer. They typically have numerous prescriptions that change frequently and have quite toxic adverse effects. These young people need intense support to help make medication adherence a priority. In the randomized trial, patients who played Re-Mission were more likely to adhere to their oral medications. Not only did they enjoy the game, but their improved adherence may possibly lead to improvements in overall health.
Re-Mission is a fun video game for kids and it can be a welcome distraction from the side effects of the disease and the medication that treats it.  It is also a helpful learning tool for children who may not understand cancer and its effects on the body. Moreover, Re-Mission empowers siblings. It provides a way for them to learn and understand cancer and treatment in their time and on their terms. Re-Mission provides a way for kids with cancer and their sibling to join together in the fight against cancer – and begin to talk about cancer.
We are excited to share this fun, educational, empowering game with our Family House adolescents and teens, and hopefully it can make a difference both in medication adherence as well as their understanding of the disease. For our families that are back home, or for anyone at all who might find this a useful tool, you can simply visit the website and download or order copies of the video game for free. We’d love to hear feedback on what families think of the game!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Family House Community

           As many of our families tell us when they open up about their favorite aspects of Family House, the sense of community built up here is incredible. Families that stay here are able to meet others going through similar situations and form bonds that help support them while here. Many parents have told us that the relationships they’ve forged during their time at Family House are irreplaceable connections that will remain long after they leave. The other weekend, two families currently staying at our 10th Avenue home went on a little trip that exemplified what our Family House community truly is.
           We recently interviewed the Atwood family, who came to us from Fresno a number of weeks ago so that their young daughter Laci could receive radiation treatment. While here, they met the Courtemanche family and instantly became friends. Meanwhile, back home, John and Karissa Atwood’s friends were organizing a monster truck racing fundraising event for Laci. The Atwood’s decided to invite their new friends along for the trip, and both families packed up and made the drive down to Bakersfield for the weekend.
In their hometown, the Atwood’s provided everything for the Courtemanche’s to make sure they felt welcome and supported. Then, the day of the event, the community of support fostered at Family House became even more apparent as Abbi Courtemanche stepped up to help in the fundraising for Laci as she went around with a hat collecting donations. The fundraiser ended up being a huge success, due in part to Abbi’s help in gathering donations. The Atwood family then made a great gesture of friendship in sharing the proceeds of the event with the Courtemanche family.
It is connections and friendships like these that embody the sense of community at Family House, and we thank all of our families for always thinking of each other in such generous and thoughtful ways!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Fernandes Family Story

The Fernandes Family
The Fernandes' journey in San Francisco and with Family House began in 2010 when their son Frankie was found to have a tumor at the base of his neck. Frank Fernandes and his wife Diane would like to share Frankie's story, from his point of view:

My name is Frankie and when I was 5 years old I was having a lot of neck pain, so my mommy and daddy took me to the doctor. It all started about June 18th when I started having this really bad neck pain. The pain would come and go. We went on our family vacation to Disneyworld the last week of June and I didn't feel real good, I was tired and my neck kept bothering me. On 4th of July I had a really bad episode and my parents took me to the ER at Kaweah Delta, but they couldn't figure out what was wrong so they gave me some motrin and tylenol, and sent me home. Two days later I went to see my doctor. Dr. McNich did some x-Rays of my neck and a swab of my throat everything looked normal and she was stumped, so she sent us to Childrens Hospital in Madera. On July 12, 2010 we found out, from the doctors at Valley Childrens in Madera, that I had a tumor at the base of my brain. They decided to send us to UCSF San Francisco since they are the best for these types of tumors. This is where we learned I had a tumor called a Clival Chordoma and I would need to have surgery to remove it. After a couple months at UCSF I then underwent 8 weeks of Proton radiation treatment so that my tumor would not come back."

Frankie at UCSF hospital
Unfortunately, as is the case with many of our families, this was only the beginning of the treatment process Frankie would need to undergo. Over the course of the last two years, the family has kept a personal website including journals that they wrote to detail day to day struggles and triumphs over the course of Frankie's treatment, as well as Family House and its importance to them (see journal from 3-21-2012). Frank and Diane would love to pass their website info on to all, so everyone can read their journals. Please visit http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/frankiefernandes to learn more about the Fernandes family's story!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Atwood Family Story

Karissa, Luke, John, and Laci @ Family House

The Atwood family is currently facing an illness that changed their life in an instant. Only two months ago, on February 21st of this year, parents John and Karissa learned that their youngest child Laci had cancer. After the diagnosis of embryonal botryoid rhabdomyosarcoma—which is one of the more common, tumorous forms of childhood cancers—the Atwood’s life has been a whirlwind. As it turned out, although Laci had a common type of cancer, hers was incredibly rare in its location; located in her ear and temporal bone, less than one millimeter from her brain, surgery was not an option. What all of this meant was that Laci was now classified as having Stage III cancer and would have to undergo a 42 week treatment plan, involving both chemotherapy and radiation.

The Atwood’s immediately began the treatment process at their home in Fresno, CA, but were halted shortly thereafter when their hospital’s radiation machine broke. John, Karissa, Laci, and 5 year old brother Luke were forced to move quickly: it was 9 PM the night they learned that they needed to be transferred up to San Francisco, and they had to be at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital by 9 AM the next morning. The family remembers being told that they were going to stay at Family House, and that everything was already set up for their arrival. However, John was skeptical at first—a feeling that many families may have upon their impending arrival to this new home away from home.  He laughed, confessing that on that first night he took his family to stay at a hotel instead.
After being here for over three weeks, John was happy to share that his feelings of uneasiness about coming to Family House have completely subsided. He noted that even if his family could afford a different living situation while up here in San Francisco, they would still choose to be at Family House. He summed it up, saying that they “wouldn’t do it any other way”. When asked what they like most about Family House, John and Karissa agreed that the feeling of community between all the families staying here is one of the best perks. Whether they are connecting with families going through the same diagnosis that they are, or whether they are learning about different situations than theirs, the Atwood’s appreciate being able to share this time with a new, inner support group. In fact, they said that they have formed life-long friendships in the few weeks that they have been here. These newly formed friendships, as well as the supportive staff, have led John to remark that by being here he has changed for the better.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Corona Family Story

The Corona Family with Bobby the Easter Bunny @ our 10th Ave. house
In the past year, the Corona family’s life has been completely turned upside down. Last May, they found out that their 3 year old son Steven was suffering from retinoblastoma, which is cancer of the eye. Unfortunately, retinoblastoma can be hereditary and the family went through this once before, with Steven’s dad many years prior.

The treatment plan led Steven, mom Brandy, grandma Janet, and baby sister Vivianna up to San Francisco to work with doctors at UCSF’s children’s hospital. Currently, the family is completing a five week stay at Family House while Steven receives 30 minute sessions of radiation treatment, 5 days a week. This treatment is an attempt to save his right eye, and prevent him from becoming blind (previous treatments were unsuccessful in saving his left eye).

While this isn’t the Corona family’s first stay at Family House, it is definitely the longest. Previously, they have stayed with us for just a few days at a time. Because Steven’s dad must stay home and work while everyone else is up in San Francisco, the time apart could be hard on this close family. However, they all pack up and drive home every weekend so that they can see their dad and spend time as a family, and on Sunday nights they drive back to begin another long week of treatment. They live about an hour outside of Fresno, so the roundtrip drive each weekend can take almost 10 hours. 

When they are here during the week, the family described the atmosphere using the words warmth, comfort, and security. In terms of security, the family referenced the way that they are always taken care of here: “any time we need something, it’s there… sometimes I can’t believe it and I have to say ‘pinch me’“. Aside from the great atmosphere here, a few of the Corona’s favorite parts of Family House are the events for the kids and the passes that Family House offers (to the zoo, Academy of Sciences, etc.). While the children’s activities help Steven get his mind away from his daily morning treatments at the doctors, Brandy says that the family passes help the parents take their minds off the doctors and allow them to clear their head from everything that is happening while they recharge in a different environment. What the family appreciates the most here, though, are the people in general—the families that come through here. Janet noted candidly:“you think that you’re by yourself in this world, but then you meet other families here… the people who you meet here allow you to experience it with someone else.”

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Volunteer’s Story: Nicole Riley


          As an undergraduate student studying Psychology at USF, I enrolled in our “Practicum” course this semester, wherein each student gets the chance to volunteer in a community setting of their choosing. In looking through places where other students had previously volunteered, Family House immediately stuck out to me because I am passionate about serving youth, but had never worked with those stricken by life-threatening illnesses. Being someone who is easily taken by emotions, I felt that being placed at Family House would challenge me to be a stronger person while supporting an incredible organization that gives to the families of children in need.
          In my few months volunteering at Family House so far, I can say confidently that I have become a stronger person through those I am surrounded with when I am here. The welcoming and compassionate staff help create the home-like feel that is within the walls at Family House, and the kind and thoughtful families that stay here bring joy to circumstances that are often bleak. Combined with all the volunteers that come to keep the house safe and tidy, cook and do crafts, and offer support from therapy dogs, I’ve seen a very strong and uplifting sense of community apparent in this house.
           I have been fortunate to see many different sides of Family House, from working through the house check-list to make sure everything is stocked and in working condition for the families, to helping keep Family House connected to the greater community through social media, to interviewing families so that I can learn their stories, to attending fundraising events. One experience that truly opened my eyes to what an incredible organization Family House is occurred during a volunteer shift at their annual Cabernet for Connoisseurs​ fundraiser. Near the end of the night, during the auctioning, they held a live pledge and I watched in awe as person after person after person raised their paddles to give to Family House. Seeing a ballroom full of people jumping to give their support to Family House was evidence of what an impact they have made on the population that they are serving and of the faith that the community has in their endeavors.
          In beginning my placement at Family House, I was told by my Professor that I would have a dual role: I would be a server, but I would also be a learner. In whatever ways I can, I have attempted to serve this beautiful organization and the work that they do as a home away from home for families of children with life-threatening illnesses. Perhaps more importantly, I have been taught so much by the staff, families, and other volunteers at Family House. I have seen that it is possible to show strength and comfort and compassion during what may be impossibly hard times. I hope that I can continue to lend support to Family House long after my practicum class comes to an end.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The VanDyke Family Shares Their Story

The VanDyke's at our 10th Avenue home
Seven years ago, the VanDyke family welcomed granddaughter Justice into the world. Justice’s grandma Kim recalls that when she held her for the first time after being born, she knew something was not right. Within two days, Justice was med-flighted out to UCSF children’s hospital, for what would be the first of many years of procedures. The family would soon learn that, among other complications, Justice was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
Originally from the Modesto area in California, Justice’s grandparents have been coming to Family House intermittently since that first trip to UCSF seven years ago. Staying anywhere from six days to three months at a time, the VanDyke’s have come to think of Family House as a second home. The first year was the scariest for their family; being out of their element was hard, but they say that having a place to “come home to” began to make it less terrifying.
More recently, they have been bringing Justice’s 10 year old sister Lexi to come stay here with them as well. Kim notes the relief they have knowing that they don’t have to leave Lexi behind anymore; the relief also seems to have positively impacted Lexi, who has improved academically as well as socially since she began staying at Family house.
For the kids, coming here is so nice that they often tell Kim they don’t want to leave to go back home. For Kim and her husband Tony, one of the best things about Family House is that “no matter how long you stay, you never feel like less of a person”. Admitting that her family can be proud and are not ones to take handouts, Kim says that what is incredible about Family House is the way that coming here feels like staying with friends or loved ones rather than a charity. She thinks this has been achieved because of the humble and genuine staff who, according to Kim, have “found where they belong”. When asked to describe the atmosphere here at Family House, Kim spent a moment thinking of the right words to use to illustrate how her family feels when they are here, and announced that it “feels like a big hug”.

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Volunteer's Story

Micah Porat learned 
about Family House in 2010 and started volunteering by bringing presents 
and baking cookies during the holidays. His time with the siblings at the house last
 year was very meaningful for him. We would like to share his story:

Visiting my brother while he was at the hospital helped me understand
 the importance for patients to have family with them. As I walked
 through the hallways at night, I heard kids cry for their parents. We
 were fortunate to have one of the greatest hospitals in the country a
 few steps away, but many families suffering like ours travel long
 distances for good medical attention. Two years ago I learned about and
 began volunteering at Family House, which gives families a
 place to stay while their critically ill child is being treated at UCSF Benioff Children’s hospital. I play with the 
siblings while their parents are at the hospital. I can relate to the
 siblings' feelings, and I give hope to their families by telling them
 how my brother survived. Helping these kids reminded me of the
 importance of giving back. When my family needed help, so many people
 were available. Now that my family is healthy, it is important for me to 
help the families who are in need.

 My work at the Family House strengthened the values I had already gained
 when I was young and helping my own family.  I took my own harsh
 situation and turned it into motivation to help others. These
 experiences will help me live my life with responsibility and
 compassion, which are values I learned throughout receiving and giving