Research Oncology Team Turns The Tables On Obligatory Gift-Giving Tradition

What do you give to someone who has just about everything he or she needs? After years of giving what had become the “same ol’, same ol,’” the Genitourinary Research Oncology Team decided to add a twist to the annual obligatory tradition. Armed with a heart for others, the group wrapped up the perfect gift for their physician leaders. This year would be like no other – one that would keep the giving going all year-long.

“We wanted to give our team leaders something memorable and meaningful,” said Julie Rasmussen, MS, BSN, RN, CCRP. “We reached out to Caring House to ask them about their specific needs, and they told us about their ‘Provide A Meal’ program. The response from our team was overwhelmingly positive, and we felt like this was the perfect gift to give in honor of our physician team.”

For more than 26 years, Caring House has provided a home-away-from-home for cancer patients treated at Duke Cancer Institute. Located in Durham, rooms at Caring House are just $35 per night and scholarships are available for those who qualify. The house features 18 beautiful rooms, a great room, library, laundry room, gym and a fully equipped community kitchen.

The GU team, which is home to several skilled chefs and bakers, agreed that providing meals for guests at Caring House was a perfect match for their talents. Together, the group arranged to serve meals over the next year. Starting with a Tex-Mex burrito bowl night in January and a macaroni and cheese bar in February, each also accompanied by special desserts.

As if following their noses, Caring House guests gathered for meals being prepped in the kitchen. Music, provided by Heath Tuttle, serenaded guests as they ate a warm, home-cooked meal with friends and family in the dining hall.

Helen Lum was amongs those present at the February dinner, having traveled from Jacksonville, Florida to Durham for cancer treatment. Lum, who has spent many years in the food industry, was diagnosed in September with a third diagnosis of cervical cancer. She sought opinions from a number of cancer centers, but eventually selected Duke for her treatment.

“I chose Duke for their expertise in cancer care and research,” said Clements. “While here, I prefer to stay at the Caring House. Everyone at Caring House really becomes a big family – we support each other in an valuable way. On those really difficult days, it’s so great to come home to people who understand and encourage you. Not having to worry about cooking dinner is a nice surprise.”

Donations poured in from other DCI disease groups to help support the meal preparation, as news spread about the GU team’s unusual gift.  

“I know from first-hand experience how critical a resource this can be for families during a difficult time,” said Rasmussen, GU clinical research coordinator and nursing team lead. “Caring House is so valuable to our patients, and we jumped at the opportunity to volunteer and give back to them. We wanted to provide support and lift their spirits because we understand how challenging the days can be during treatment.”

Finishing up their meals, Connie Blankenship and Barbara Burnside, who have become close friends while at Caring House, stopped to thank the volunteers.

“It’s a blessing and it truly means a lot,” said Blakenship. “All around, from our cancer care to the volunteers’ home-cooking, it’s been a positive experience. I’m so thankful for Duke and all the people who make it great.”

The physician leaders of GU Oncology Research were honored by the team’s kindness behind the yearly gift.

“Our research team is made up of incredible individuals,” said Daniel George, director of genitourinary oncology at Duke Cancer Institute. “This year’s gift was the best yet. Their generous outreach to Caring House on our behalf illustrates the true meaning and spirit of the holidays. This gift required multiple hours for planning, prepping and execution. More importantly, it required a heart for giving. I can't thank this team enough."

The ‘Provide A Meal’ Program at Caring House strives to serve dinner every weeknight, but the program depends on participation from members of the community. Groups of 10 or less are invited to bring dinner or prepare a meal in the kitchen for approximately 25 to 30 guests. For more information on the Provide A Meal Program or planning a stay, please visit Caring House or contact Kelly Mulhern at 919.490.5449.