For more than 80 years, the Sacred Heart Home for Incurable Cancer has housed cancer patients on the corner of Park and Hunting Park avenues in North Philadelphia.
Sister Marie Edward serves as director of nursing and religious superior to all of the sisters living in the home.
“We’re seeing patients that are coming in with a variety of kinds of cancer, at all stages of their cancer, they’ve all been through different things as far as their treatment is concerned, and a variety of backgrounds,” Edward said.
Edward oversees the staffing and general policies of running the home, as well as taking responsibility for the spiritual welfare of all of the sisters living there. Sister Rosemary Tolosky lives and works at Sacred Heart Home as one of the registered nurses, providing around-the-clock care to patients.
“All of our patients have to have cancer for them to be admitted here,” Tolosky said. “They may have secondary diseases, but they have to have cancer. That’s what our work was founded for and we’ve stayed very focused on that for all of these years.”
Sacred Heart Home is operated by the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, a Roman Catholic congregation established in 1900 by Rose Hawthorne, daughter of esteemed novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne. Since then, the organization has traveled and built homes worldwide providing palliative care for cancer patients.
“We don’t do any therapies here,” Tolosky said. “We treat symptoms, perform comfort care, pain control, and try to afford them a very peaceful environment with no financial worries to add to their concerns and the concerns of their families.”
The sisters first came to Hunting Park in 1930, when the community was much better off than its current state.
“There has been a change from when we first started in this undertaking in 1930. Of course there was no Medicare or Medicaid back then, but now there’s a huge hospice movement,” Edward said. “We try to find those people that fall between the cracks, run out of insurance or cant manage at home.”
Along with palliative care, they also administer medication, complete paperwork, compile care plans and organize chart arrangements for all of the patients that reside in the home. The sisters also select days for games, movies, entertainers and other activities for patients to enjoy while engaging each other in a fun and active setting.
In addition to getting patients up and moving, the sisters also provide services to assist patients reaching the end of their life.
“If there’s any kind of cooperation on their part we try to offer that peaceful environment and assist them in facing the biggest step of life, facing eternity,” Edward said.
“They see the way we live in community. They know we have our prayers that are broadcasted through the television,” Tolosky said. “Primarily, we’re trying to show them the love that God has for him and that they’re not alone, and that there are people that care very deeply for them.”
Sacred Heart Home provides a number of amenities including an interactive entertainment room, a smoking lounge and a garden to ensure the happiness and well-being of their patients during these hard times. A primary principle of the organization is to ensure the comfort of the patients during the final stretch..
All services provided to the patients are free of charge and open to anyone who has cancer, regardless of religious affiliation. Sacred Heart Home is an independent organization that receives no funding from the government, archdioceses, or internal fundraising events. The funds come solely from the generosity of benefactors and outside organizations that donate money. It is through what the sisters described as “divine providence” that they are able to do what they were called to do for their patients.
“It gets down to the bottom line that they are getting very sick and facing death,” Edward said. “We serve whoever might fall into that situation where they need a helping hand. Whoever comes to us, we’re happy to help.”
“Being an RN, I don’t just come here and give out medication and do assessments. I’m actually able to do a lot of hands-on care. You know they’re here in the last days so you just provide comfort,” Clark said.
But his biggest lesson learned wasn’t related to health care. “You can’t take things for granted. Some people in here have family that visits them once, maybe twice a month. It makes me pick up the phone and call my parents whenever I can,” Clark said.
For more information on the Sacred Heart Home for Incurable Cancer, visit www.sacredheartphila.org