Pat Gonzales knows firsthand what it means to be diagnosed with breast cancer, go through radiation and then undergo a double mastectomy.
You could say it’s the ultimate reason she and her husband have moved forward with their vision for Rose’s House, a place where women undergoing cancer treatment can stay, with important tools and equipment they’ll need during recovery.
Before we get to that, let’s back up, because Pat and her husband Phil, who are turning 70 this year, have quite the story to explain why they’re creating this beautiful place for patients.
Rose, the neighbor
The Gonzales couple has lived on the northwest side of San Antonio for many years. That’s where they met their neighbor Rose.
“She was our neighbor for almost 30 years,” Phil said. “She kept to herself. She was an itty bitty person. Through the years, we got to be neighborly.”
One day, there was an ambulance outside Rose’s house and medics were In the process of taking her to a hospital.
“When I discovered she was having problems, I followed her, because she had no one in the area, aside from brothers,” Phil said. “I followed her to the hospital and became her advocate.”
Phil said he and his wife watched over Rose when she was going through chemo treatments.
In May 2017, Rose died of complications from breast cancer.
“Right before she passed, I discovered she had two grown children in California,” Phil said. “I suggested they sell the house (to us) and they could walk away, and they did.”
After purchasing Rose’s two-bedroom home from her children, Phil and Pat had a loose plan for the house.
“We thought we’d flip it or turn it into a rental,” Pat said.
Thus began the journey of the remodel, a business Phil is well versed in.
A change in plans
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. She received radiation, but it didn’t work, so she was given another option.
“(The) surgeon said a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction would eliminate 99% of anything ever recurring,” Pat said.
So that’s what she and her husband decided on, and in July 2018, she underwent the massive surgery at PRMA Plastic Surgery in San Antonio, where doctors specialize in breast reconstruction after lumpectomies and mastectomies.
“They do the reconstruction from your belly fat, so the incision goes from one hip bone to the other hip bone,” Pat said. “You can’t stress your arms or abdomen.”
Recovery is a long, difficult process.
As Pat was going through her battle, the remodel got put on the back burner.
“(Phil) didn’t get a lot done (before the diagnosis), so we’ve been given extra time to discuss what we want to do and what would make us feel good,” Pat said.
Seeing an opportunity
Through Pat’s journey of breast cancer treatments and surgery, she became acutely aware of how popular PRMA is.
“I discovered they’re not only the best in San Antonio, they are also known throughout the country,” Pat said. “Women travel here from all parts to have this surgery. I was able to reach out and meet some of them in person.”
She met women from Kentucky, Chicago, Virginia and many other areas.
In going through a difficult surgery and tough ordeal overall, Pat realized these patients had a long road ahead, even once surgery was complete.
Pat said many women who travel to San Antonio must rent hotel rooms.
“Usually the surgeries are done on Tuesdays, so one lady from Virginia, she came in Sunday and stayed 14 days. For anyone who doesn’t have someone with a lot of strength, they need a lift chair, too,” Pat said. “Their options are to stay in a hotel and rent a lift chair and a shower chair. Or an Airbnb might have better access.”
Pat said PRMA can get patients a 10% to 15% discount on hotels, but even then, it can become expensive, and they don’t have the resources they need.
“(The surgeons) encourage women to walk quite a bit,” Pat said. “At hotels, there really aren’t spaces they can go to walk. (You can) do a couple laps, but when you’re discharged, wherever you go, you have to be able to continue with the exercise.”
A plan for Rose’s House buds
Pat and Phill quickly realized what they wanted the plan for the remodel to be: A place where women who have undergone the surgery can rest comfortably and have all the tools they need for recovery -- and at a minimal price.
“We have decided to turn it into an opportunity for women to stay here with their support person or people,” Pat said. “We want it to be a peaceful recovering environment. Let me tell you, you really need privacy and patience, because it is a terrific surgery.”
The couple is not looking to make a profit, but there will be a few bills that need paid each month. Really, those are what the small cost will cover.
And as a memoriam to Rose, Pat and Phil have fittingly named the home Rose’s House.
The house will be equipped with items like a lift chair, a walk-in shower with a commercial-grade shower chair and other features that will be priceless to patients in recovery.
“There are homes like this in different cities, but there are none in San Antonio,” Phil said. “Our goal is to have more than one house like this in San Antonio.”
The couple said they’ve got about two months until the house will be ready to start taking recovering patients.
Scroll to the bottom to see more images of the house.
They’ve even met with the patient coordinator at PRMA to discuss Rose’s House with her.
“She is really excited about this happening,” Pat said. “As we grow and can have more homes, hopefully we’ll be able to open it up to more patients traveling to San Antonio. Hopefully in the future we will be able to make it a 501(c)(3).”
For those unfamiliar, in short, organizations described as 501(c)(3) are commonly known as charitable organizations, according to the IRS. They are eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.
Doing for others
Pat and Phil said being able to make Rose’s House a reality is something that makes them so happy.
“We’re doing it for others, but there are also people who are just aching to do good things for other people,” Pat said. “We’re not good at receiving. As people have learned what we’re doing, we’ve been overwhelmed by friends and total strangers who have offered assistance and help to do this. Through prayer and time, we realized it’s not us receiving it -- we’re the tools in helping other people. We’ve had to learn to be gracious in receiving.”
Pat said the irony in what she and Phil are doing -- giving to others -- is that the couple met 30 years ago while volunteering at the Jimenez Thanksgiving dinner in San Antonio -- an event that serves people who are alone and cannot afford to prepare a holiday meal for themselves.
“Doing something for other people is in our blood,” Pat said.
The couple’s only regret?
“That we started this too late in our lives,” Pat said.