Guest Story: Finding Joy and Hope at Caring House

In the main lobby of Caring House, you’ll find a square jar filled with candy for guests, visitors, volunteers, and staff to enjoy. You never know what you may find in the jar, one day it might be striped peppermints or caramel m&ms, other days it might be chewy taffy or Reese’s cups wrapped in foil the colors of spring. 

If you stay long enough, you’re bound to see a man in a wheelchair, a UNC-Chapel Hill fleece blanket in his lap (a bold choice in Duke territory), parked next to the jar, and choosing the treat of the day. If you’re lucky, you may get to hear one of his clever, quick-witted jokes.

Larry and his wife Nancy have been at Caring House for nearly four months now. The two are usually roaming the halls together, ready to greet anyone with a smile. Nancy, with a heart of gold, seems to be the kind of person that would take you under her wing in a heartbeat. Someone you can feel safe with always.  

“I heard one of the young girls here say she was here by herself, and I put my arm around her and said, ‘you’re not by yourself.’ We’re all here with her,” she shared with me. 

Larry has a seemingly harder exterior with a deep, gruff voice, but he is easy to talk to, friendly, patient, and always seems to have a witty joke in his back pocket. 

He’s had a long journey through various medical issues, starting with cancer about ten years ago. Once the cancer was treated with radiation, more hospital visits came, for hyperbaric treatment, a leg amputation, and heart surgery. With a deadpan face, he jokes, “I have a cow valve in my heart, so every now and then, I have to go ‘moo.’

The couple, who currently live in Wilson, North Carolina, are here at Caring House for radiation treatment at Duke Cancer Institute to target Larry’s liver cancer. 

You would think a medical journey so intense would break a spirit, or at least slow someone down, but if it has, the couple doesn’t show it. Instead, they are a picture of subtle resilience, humility, and positivity. Nancy shares how grateful they are for a place like Caring House, where they find peace, relaxation, and community among other guests. “We don’t find anybody here who is unhappy or lacking in graciousness or kindness,” she said. “Instead of bringing you down, they bring you up. You know, having some joy and some hope, it goes a long way.”

Larry and Nancy have definitely contributed to this joy and hope at Caring House, helping to cook meals, offering to drive guests without transportation to the grocery store, and making long-lasting connections with others. 

As a staff member, I am always inspired by guests who support each other, and the relationships they form are incredibly special. As Larry shares with me how helpful it is to be surrounded by others in similar shoes, Nancy adds that the environment and people at Caring House give her the courage to get up every day and focus on Larry’s healing. “When I look up and see him smiling, and talking to the guests, it’s a happy day,” she said. 

With busy lives that have included many moves, traveling, raising a son, and becoming grandparents, Nancy also shares that this cancer journey has changed how she views their time together, and how that time has become more important to her. The couple steal glances at each other throughout our conversation, an unspoken, subtle declaration of love. Larry and Nancy are a testament to a kind of love that outlasts the good and the bad. With their heads held high, they approach something as scary as cancer with optimism and hope. 

It is beautifully coincidental that the candy Larry loves so much is as sweet as the couple’s personalities and love. As I ask them another question, “Is there a specific experience or moment that sticks out from your stay?” I get a quick, simple answer from Larry with a sneaky smile. 

“Yeah, the candy jar.” 

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Written by: Kristen Luft, Communications Associate