Kathy was ready for the hockey game, complete with her scarf featuring the red and white maple leaf of the Canadian Flag. She made no apologies cheering for the Montreal Canadiens, despite the fact the Buffalo Sabres were hosting her and several others from Kevin Guest House for the late October game in KeyBank Center.
“To see a Canadian team playing an American team, that’s nice,” she said in the suite donated for the day by the Buffalo Sabres. It’s been a while since Kathy Dingwell was back in her home and native land. She has been in Buffalo since June – at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, a hotel, and finally an apartment in the new Russell J. Salvatore Hospitality House on the Kevin Guest House campus.
She lives in a small town near Stratford, Ontario and the night of hockey helped bring her a little bit of home on the other side of the border.
And Kevin Guest House helped create some home-like normalcy during while she continues recovery from her stem cell transplant.
“I was a wellness coordinator. I used to teach fitness classes to those age 55-plus,” Kathy said. “And I used to do blood pressure clinics and work with a whole group of people on education about health and wellness.
“You get diagnosed one day and the next day you’re in treatment for 30 to 60 days. I was in treatment for 60 days without going home. So we call it abduction therapy, because you’re all of a sudden taken. That’s what the girls on the floor call it: It’s abduction therapy because we just take you out of life and you didn’t come with anything. They gave me clothes for the night, and my husband drove home, and he came back the next day with some other things. What a journey.”
Her journey was bolstered by a solid system of caretakers – her husband and sisters being the mainstays along with her son, two nieces, a nephew, and a number of friends. All have made the journey to Buffalo to be with her. And all have found solace at Kevin Guest House during Kathy’s five-month stay in Buffalo.
“You know what the difference is? You guys have food, and that brings people together,” Kathy said. “My sisters would come back and say we did this, or so-and-so went for a walk with me this morning. You have more chatting, more socializing going on for them and it’s not always about the illness. And I think that’s important. Because the caregivers need a break.”
Kathy received her own break when a transplant apartment opened up at Kevin Guest House, allowing her to move out of a small hotel room into a better space for her and her family. She had a full kitchen, which helped her stick to the diet she needed as she recovered from her transplant.
And then there was the beauty of the shared living room on the first floor.
“I used to go downstairs and sit in the living room and the one chair in the corner and I used to just sit there and draw. Or I’d sit there and just watch the cars the go by and oh it was fabulous,” Kathy said.
The facilities provided comfort, but the volunteers and staff, both at Kevin Guest House and the hospital, gave Kathy an extended a family, a taste of why Buffalo is called the “City of Good Neighbors.” She even got to pose with the Sabres mascot, Sabretooth, at the Kevin Guest House Fall Fest in September.
“Everybody’s so generous and I think that’s important,” Kathy said. “Everybody’s just so generous. I found that here. I found that at hospital. I found that everywhere. I was really nervous about coming here to get treatment, so now that I’m hopefully getting toward the end of my treatment, I couldn’t have done it without the support. It’s been a blessing.”
The blessing didn’t quite extend to the Montreal Canadiens that night in KeyBank Center. The Sabres defeated the Canadiens, 4-3. But that’s all right. Kathy is still smiling and proudly wearing her maple leaf scarf.