Monday, March 31, 2014

Volunteer Spotlight: Monique Ngo

Monique Ngo is a very special  Volunteer Leader at Family House. She herself knows firsthand what families experience, as she was front and center during her mother’s own battle with life-threatening illnesses. Monique was unsure if she could emotionally handle being a volunteer, “When I first read that the Family House is for families whose children are receiving treatment for cancer and other serious illnesses, I was hesitant. I was hesitant because for almost half my life my mom was seriously ill with first kidney failure, then cancer. So I was hesitant because I didn't know if I would be able to mentally handle seeing more suffering.” This is something that volunteers sometimes experience.

Monique overcame her reservations of volunteering at Family House when she thought, “If I were to volunteer here, I could help people that face the same difficulties as me. That thought motivated me and in a way gave me some strength to want to volunteer at Family House."

Monique has been an amazing asset to Family House as she helps out our business office with fundraising projects and assisting families in navigating San Francisco. Monique’s dedication to Family House has made for some special moments with the families and she even spent her 21st birthday volunteering at Family House! Thank you so much Monique, we adore you!

Get involved with Family House! Learn more at

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

All Star Followup: Max Meierotto

Max and his parents first stayed at Family House for 3 months in 2011. They had come to San Francisco all the way from Vienna, Austria, so he could take part in a clinical trial for the treatment of Pelizaeus Merzbacher Disease, a very rare condition where the myelin sheath around Max’s brain deteriorates, causing significant motor function issues.

His mom, Stefanie, says of the clinical trial, “We were very, very happy about it, but of course we didn’t have a place to stay - and then Family House came in and gave us a bed.  There were very nice people to talk to and hang out with there. It was a place to just be home.”

Once a year for the next few years, Max returns to UCSF for checkups, including an EEG, an SSEP, an MRI, and all kinds of blood tests. “He’s 8 years old, and he’s having good progress with everything - it’s what we wish for.”

 When he comes to San Francisco now, he’s now longer the baby of the family. Stefanie recalls, “Last year in June, we had twin girls, healthy twin girls, and I’m not bored anymore. (Not that I was bored before, but now I learned what it means to be extremely busy!) They’re a big joy.

“In the beginning, it was a little bit hard for Max, because he was our prince for 8 years, and he had to learn to accept that there are other people that Mommy has to help with.  But he’s getting much, much better. Since the girls are getting older, and moving around more, he thinks this is hilarious, and enjoys them now quite a bit. It’s good for him - he’s learned a lot.”

Follow us on Facebook to see the latest on some of our amazing families:

Click here to learn more about Family House families:

Sign up for our newsletters to stay in the loop on all Family House news:

Monday, March 10, 2014

Family House Staff Spotlight: Jeanine Homich

Interview with Jeanine Homich, Administrative Coordinator

How did you come to be at Family House?
One of my closest friends (Susan Neff) started working here in November 2006, and I remember thinking, "Great, our kids are graduating high school and she found this new place, and I'll have a new place to volunteer!"  At that time, Susan and I were volunteering 20 hours a week at our sons' school, Marin Catholic High School, and I remember thinking that I could put my hard work into something new and wonderful. I think my first volunteer experience was a holiday dinner - the Monday before Thanksgiving or the Monday before Christmas.

In 2010, I became a contractor to work on Quickbooks one day a week. In 2011, I was working two days a week, and have been working three days a week since 2012.

How has Family House changed since you first started?
For me, since I'm not coming in so "casually," the work I'm doing is more serious, having more of an impact.  For the organization, it feels like we're getting bigger, with the upcoming move to Mission Bay. It hasn't really changed that much, but it's more developed - more grown up, maybe.

What are some of your favorite Family House memories?At events, I really enjoy dancing with the kids; or day-to-day interactions at the House like laughing about something with a fellow staff member or going to lunch together. It's all about enjoying the quiet moments with coworkers or a family. It's not just one thing. Last year, I really enjoyed going to dinner with the Monickens in Sausalito and having sushi - that was really, really nice.

Seeing beautiful children come back well with happy moms, just paying us a visit, years later… And reading some really beautiful letters from people who stayed here in the 80's and 90's, and just give us an update on how they're doing.  In my job, I take donations through the mail and send thank-you letters, and see a lot of notes from families that are doing well now. We got one from a patient who stayed here in the 80's, and now he's all grown up and is working as a researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab. He sent a donation and a note to say that everything's great, and he just wanted to give back.  I'll never forget reading that letter.  It's very inspirational, reading letters like those - I love that! I love to see the children that we've helped all grown up.  You can just tell by the way they write that their hearts are just a little bigger.  They're changed, but in a really positive way - you can just tell.

At Family House, you just know that what you're doing makes a difference to people. I guess I love that the most.

Learn more about the caring staff at Family House:

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Maddie’s Journey, by Jenny DeHart

My daughter, Madison, was 13 when she was diagnosed with cancer.  It was June of 2011 and I took  3 of my children to the doctor to get their Whooping Cough vaccination.  While we were there and after the Dr. left the room, I asked the nurse if it was ok for Maddie to have the shot if she had whooping cough already.  When she went out to ask the Dr. he advised us to go to the ER before having the vaccination just in case.  I waited a few hours and we went after dinner, around 7:30 that night.  After 2 hours and chest x-rays, we found out that Maddie had a massive tumor in her chest behind her right lung, and as it grew it was pushing on her lungs and causing the cough.  We knew within two weeks that the tumor was cancerous, and so our journey began.

On August 5, 2011, Maddie had what we refer to as her "big surgery".  It was a scary day for me, as things drastically changed the day before when we went for her pre-op appointment.  At first I had been told that they would be removing the tumor from her side, under her arm, and no scar would show, and that they were allowing 5 hours for her surgery.  During the pre-op, I was informed that the surgery now was scheduled for the whole day, and that the tumor was wrapped around the arteries to her head and right arm, as well as the nerves to her diaphragm and vocal chords.  They also let me know that they would be opening up her chest to get it out.   I was horrified and they went further in telling me that if they removed the whole tumor, they would have to remove her right arm and she would not have a voice anymore.   I didn't have time to process any of this at all, she was going in the very next day.

About four hours into the surgery, the Dr. called me in the waiting room and told me that the MRI was wrong and the tumor was NOT wrapped around all those important arteries and nerves!!  That was our first miracle.  When I saw my sweet Maddie 6 hours later, she was in ICU with every tube imaginable connected to her, but I saw her right arm, and about 20 minutes later I heard her sweet voice, and I knew that she was going to be ok.

Eight days later, when she was discharged from the hospital, and we began our two hour drive home to Turlock, California.  We were an hour and half away from home, and I received a phone call from her oncologist at UCSF with more devastating news.  The pathology report had come back on the tumor and it showed a very aggressive cancer which indicated that Maddie would need to have chemo and radiation.  They gave her a "small" break after her "big surgery" of one month, before she had surgery to insert a port into her chest, and she began chemo that same day, September 6, 2011.

This is when our second miracle occurred.  We were referred to Family House and they became our second home for the next 6 months.  I say "they" because the people of family house made us feel as though we were home.  The first person we met was Kara.  She did our orientation and had nothing but a smile on her face the whole time!!  She was our first contact in our "new home".  Subsequently, meeting everyone else, John, Joe, Greg, Amy and now Karen,  was amazing!!  Family House became our home, and the people who work there, and the families that stay there are who made that happen.

We needed that miracle because Maddie and I were separated from the other children for the majority of 6 months.  It was very difficult on our our little family.  The staff was so consistent through support, from activities for Maddie, everything they provided in the house, and even just basic conversations, or simple smiles and hugs that helped us get through our day.  They were always encouraging us and always there for us when we needed them the most!  They MADE Family House a home for us, not just a house.

Our third miracle came when the Doctor declared that Maddie was cancer free on February 13, 2012.  She then had her port removed on Valentine's Day.   The only thing that was bittersweet about that news, was that we had to go to our real home.  Of course we WANTED to go home, to reunite with the other kids, but leaving Family House was so hard.  They were by our side through the darkest time in our lives and we had to leave them.

Next week it will be 2 years since Madison was declared "Cancer Free".  She is 15 years old now and thriving in school, actually in all aspects of her life.  We have been given the opportunity to be able to stay at Family House periodically over the past two years for her check ups that will continue for 3 more years, regularly.  It feels good when we get to "go home", and know that we will be welcomed and loved by all our "family" there.

Follow us on Facebook to see the latest on some of our amazing families:

Click here to learn more about Family House families: 

Sign up for our newsletters to stay in the loop on all Family House news: