‘A godsend’: Rose’s House for breast cancer warriors helps first ‘grateful’ guest through major post-op recovery

In 2020, it was just a dream -- serving as a safe haven of comfort and peace, for women recovering from major breast cancer surgery.

Now, it’s become a reality for Pat and Phil Gonzales.

Rose’s House was finally ready in July, and the couple welcomed their first guest, a woman who would be recovering from a double mastectomy.

Planting the seed for Rose’s House

The house is named for Pat and Phil’s late neighbor, Rose, who fought and ultimately died of complications from breast cancer.

After Rose died, the couple purchased the home.

“We thought we’d flip it or turn it into a rental,” Pat said.

But just a few months into the remodel, in October 2017, Pat was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She said she was lucky she caught it at Stage 0, but after radiation didn’t work, and a frank conversation with her surgeon, Pat and Phil decided she would undergo a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction at PRMA Plastic Surgery in San Antonio, where doctors specialize in breast reconstruction after lumpectomies and mastectomies.

In going through the difficult surgery and tough ordeal overall, Pat realized these patients -- patients like her -- had a long road ahead, even once surgery was complete.

Through much discussion and prayer, the couple decided to turn what was once intended to be a flip house into a home where women recovering from the massive surgery could go to recover in the days after their surgery at PRMA.

Judi’s story

Judi and friend. (Image provided by Judi.)

It was quite a journey, preparing the home, but Pat and Phil (and a handful of other people who helped -- the couple would note) made it happen. Rose’s House opened earlier this year, and welcomed its first guest, Judi Cartwright, in July.

Cartwright’s journey began when she found a tumor in her right breast.

“I went to see the general surgeon and he said, ‘Let’s do a tissue biopsy,’ so we did. He took five samples. It all came back negative,” Cartwright said.

Thinking she had nothing to worry about, Cartwright’s husband, an orthopedic surgeon, disagreed.

Because they had a son in high school at the time -- and it was March -- Cartwright told her husband they would put it off until summer.

“He said, ‘No, you need to get that out now,’” Cartwright said.

She went in the next week, had a lumpectomy and that’s when they found Cartwright had metaplastic breast cancer, a rare, subtype of breast cancer.

“It was just so shocking -- I have no family history of it,” she said. “It was in my right breast, (but) I went ahead and decided to have a double mastectomy, and come to find out, I also had it in my left. It just wasn’t a tumor yet.”

By happenstance, amid everything Cartwright was dealing with, she and Pat met in a Facebook support group for women who have battled or are battling cancer.

Judi Cartwright, before surgery. (Images provided by Judi Cartwright.)

The timing of the Rose’s House opening worked out with Cartwright’s surgery, and after she decided she was going to do the double mastectomy at PRMA in San Antonio, she got with Pat and planned her post-op stay.

Rose’s House in full bloom

Pat and Phil were eager to welcome the first guest into Rose’s House, so they were ready to intercept Cartwright and her friend when they arrived.

“It was very heartwarming when we had the first guest pull up to the door,” Pat said. “We couldn’t contain ourselves, so we came out to meet them,” Pat said. “It was overwhelming. It was like we just met people we’d known forever. There’s just a bond.”

The house, which is right next door to Pat and Phil, is just 18 minutes from the hospital, so guests can get to follow-up appointments relatively quickly and easily.

“She was amazing -- her and Phil,” Cartwright said. “They thought of everything. The house was perfect.”

Judi Cartwright in Rose's House. (Images provided by Judi Cartwright.)

The house has also been prepped specifically for needs patients may encounter after surgery.

“(It was) just wonderful,” Cartwright said. “She provided a lift chair. And lift chairs, for what I went through, was a godsend. I had surgery on my stomach, as well as my breast area, so it was a big deal.”

Cartwright said Pat would send her messages during the day to check on her and see if she needed anything.

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“They were so nurturing and helpful. You know, I think she and Phil, they didn’t want to be intrusive, but they wanted me to know, you know, ‘We’re here,’” Cartwright said. “They are like, ‘We are here if you need us.’ I was blessed, because I had someone there, taking care of me, (but) it really helps, from a health standpoint, mentally, spiritually, to just feel comfort and know that you’re in a place that’s going to help you continue to heal and move forward on your journey.”

Before she left Rose’s House, Cartwright expressed her gratitude in a journal Pat and Phil have left for guests to sign. Judi wrote, in part:

“To say this home has been a blessing is an understatement. The owners were very easy to communicate with, and the location to the hospital was very convenient. The lift chair was awesome -- can’t imagine not having one. Today is post-op day 8 for me and I’m headed home! Yay! Just know that hope abounds and no one’s journey is the same. You’ve got this, my pink sister!”

When we spoke with Cartwright, she was four weeks post-op.

“I feel really good,” she said. “I still can’t do everything I want to do yet, but I’m getting there.”

When asked what advice she had for someone going through a similar situation, Cartwright said, “Get it checked out. And if you still have an inkling -- because like me, I was told it was benign -- if you still have an inkling that something just isn’t right, go get another opinion.”

Finding a purpose

In speaking to Pat and Phil, after Cartwright’s stay, it’s clear they can feel something special happening in Rose’s House.

“I have never in my life accomplished anything like this. This is our baby,” Pat said. “For Phillip and I, we haven’t had children. We’ve led our lives for 31 years together. It’s been a roller coaster, up and down and twisted all the way, (but) this is our purpose. This just formed a life of its own. There were so many miracles along the way.”

The couple has now had more guests stay at Rose’s House, post-op.

Unfortunately, they said, they’ve also dealt with having to turn down requests for the home, due to scheduling conflicts with another guest. Phil said it just makes them want to do more.

“It creates more energy in wanting to purchase another home,” he said. “We would love to have five homes to be able to offer.”

For now, the couple is enjoying having something special to offer people in a time of need, but they have had the discussion that there could be more homes in the future.

“It’s a shame we started this so late in our lives,” Phil said. “Next time, it will certainly be easier. It’s been a labor of love.”

“We would be thrilled the day nobody needs Rose’s House,” Pat said, but acknowledged how impactful Rose’s House has been and will be to people battling breast cancer.

A friendship blooms

When asked if she’ll stay in touch with Pat and Phil, Cartwright said “Oh, yes! I would love to see them again. They are just an incredible couple.”

“It’s not just having met a new guest -- it’s making new friends,” Pat said. “I don’t think they’ll be going away in our life.”

This story was first published in 2021. It has since been updated.

About the Author

Dawn Jorgenson, Graham Media Group Branded Content Managing Editor, began working with the group in April 2013. She graduated from Texas State University with a degree in electronic media.

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