Without the lodging services provided by A Port in the Storm, Tia Hill would be bankrupt.
Her husband, Michael Krasiy, is undergoing his second round of cancer treatment in Winnipeg, and if they weren't able to stay in one of the medical hostel's St. Boniface suites while they're in town -- they live in Sifton, about 350 kilometres northwest of the city -- she doesn't know what they would do.
"This is our second home. We wouldn't be able to live in a hotel with one room and eat in a restaurant three times a day. It just wouldn't happen. We're seniors, we're on a fixed income. We would be bankrupt by now," Hill said.
'This is our second home. We wouldn't be able to live in a hotel with one room and eat in a restaurant three times a day. It just wouldn't happen. We're seniors, we're on a fixed income. We would be bankrupt by now' -- Tia Hill, of her and her husband, Michael Krasiy
The couple has made 20 trips to Winnipeg in the last 14 months, including one of nine consecutive weeks.
APITS started in July 2012 with an empty suite, a desk and a phone. Three months later, it had leased 10 suites at Villa Aulneau, an old convent that had been converted into 55-plus housing. It has since expanded to 18 suites but is still not enough, said Marion Willis, its executive director.
"The need is absolutely huge. I've turned away about 75 people since August," she said.
So, to increase its capacity to provide housing to rural patients, APITS has bought a nearby heritage building that has been boarded up for years. The goal is to renovate it and turn it into a medical hostel featuring 40 suites.
To cover the costs, APITS has started a capital campaign to raise $15 million. It has already raised more than $3 million, one-third of which was donated by a private philanthropist whose husband died of cancer, and Willis is optimistic it can raise the rest.
Joanne Loughery, a former oncology nurse at CancerCare Manitoba who now instructs at Red River College, did a lot of the heavy lifting in getting APITS off the ground 15 months ago, but she is quick to note she was inspired by a former patient.
Sue, a single mother in her mid-20s from Brandon, had to come to Winnipeg for aggressive treatments about a decade ago, forcing her to be separated from her three-year-old son for lengthy stretches. Already on income assistance, she had to stay in a hotel and remortgage their home.
"It was financially devastating," Loughery said.
She had a long conversation with Sue shortly before she died about her business plan for a long-term facility for people in her situation.
"Her dream was to have a house of hope. It was a lonely, scary, difficult time in her life. She wanted a place where she could be with other people, a place like Ronald McDonald House but for adults," she said.
Willis said the experience for rural cancer patients is entirely different than their urban counterparts. Because treatment can take weeks or even months to complete, they have to travel to Winnipeg, find accommodations here and sometimes leave their jobs.
"Your world can be turned upside down. You still have to make vehicle payments and mortgage payments. The financial burden is staggering. I have people in the facility right now that have had to declare (personal) bankruptcy," Willis said.
Jill Taylor-Brown, director of patient and family support services at CancerCare Manitoba, said APITS is a "Godsend" for out-of-town cancer patients.
"Sometimes family members need a place to stay that is reasonably priced, too. When the only option is a hotel, it becomes cost-prohibitive," she said.
"A Port In The Storm is a different kind of environment than a hotel. You can get support there and share stories. Even if you never talk to your neighbours, there's this unspoken camaraderie that others are in a similar situation," she said.