Patient Stories


Easing the Suffering of Those Who Have So Little

Everyone at our Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program’s Barbara McInnis House knows Claire.  She is a slight, quiet woman, with dark, nearly black hair whose bangs rest on her brow.  Claire is known for her beautiful origami creations, which she gives to staff and patients as an expression of her friendship and gratitude.  When she first arrived at BMH, her fear of elevators and extreme introversion made it quite challenging for Claire, especially when she needed to travel back and forth to chemotherapy and radiation treatments at neighboring Boston Medical Center.  As time went on, Claire began to realize that, in her words, she “did not have to be scared at the Barbara McInnis House” because she receives the care and compassion she needs here.

Prior to her stay at the Barbara McInnis House, Claire rented a room in an apartment.  When she began to feel sick, she would often retreat to her bedroom, alone and terrified of the pain, unwilling to burden anyone with her ailments. She began to miss her shifts working as a housekeeper for several Boston families.  Soon, she was struggling to make rent.  When the pain in her breast was too excruciating, she called an ambulance.  Unbeknownst to Claire, the pain and feeling ill were secondary to her advanced breast cancer.

When Claire was admitted to the McInnis House, one of her nurses was stunned at her condition, calling it the worst cases of breast cancer she had ever seen.  Although doctors wanted to treat her with an almost immediate mastectomy, the grapefruit-sized tumor was too vascular and the surgical risk of blood loss too high. The tumor required meticulous attention, and for three months our nurses spent nearly 4 hours each day with Claire dressing the affected area and showing her how to properly change the dressing.  As Claire had suffered alone for so long, she was used to her way of bandaging the tumor.  Slowly and gently, our nurses eased her move into the complicated medical world, and gave her the confidence to assist in her own care once again. Recently, doctors discovered that the cancer had metastasized to her lungs, bones, and brain.  Our team of clinicians continues to treat and support Claire as she navigates the further complexities of her treatment.  Despite her diagnosis, the compassionate care and support of the staff here at our Barbara McInnis House has encouraged Claire to come out of her shell.  Now, she can be found crafting, knitting and making small origami ornaments for staff and fellow patients.  

While receiving her radiation treatments at Boston Medical Center, Claire often tells her doctors and the other cancer patients that she is grateful and “proud to say I stay at the Barbara McInnis House – they saved my life.” When she returns from her appointments, our staff is there at the door ready to ease her suffering and keep her company on the elevator back to the Barbara McInnis House.