Organization aims to connect cancer patients, families in Austin

People participating in Little Pink Houses organization.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Five years ago, 35-year-old Amber Lammons was diagnosed with two forms of breast cancer. Doctors told her it was stage 4, the most aggressive stage.

“It’s a harsh reality,” she said. “You know that your time is limited.”

She and her husband have two young daughters who have been very involved since the diagnosis in 2012.

“They were in the doctor’s office when they told me,” Lammons said. “My kids know that when my time has come, I didn’t hide anything from them. They won’t be mad at me for it, for not telling them what’s going on. They know when my scans are, they know when I get my results.”

Lammons said her family has discussed what’s going to happen after she passes away, even coming up with a plan for where her daughters will live if her husband were to somehow die too. But even with her kids well aware and a plan in place, she says she still worries.

“You think about their graduations from high school. You think about what if you never see their first grandbaby. All of the things where people take for granted growing old, per se.”

But instead of letting the worries bog her down, she said she tries to focus on the time she has left with them.

That’s how Lammons found Little Pink Houses of Hope, an organization that sends breast cancer patients and their families on free week-long retreats. It was founded by a breast cancer survivor who noticed a vacuum of support for patients’ families after her own diagnosis.

“What we find is that caregivers take on a heavy burden when the person they love is diagnosed,” LPHOH founder and president Jeanine Patten-Coble said. “When you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s not just you that’s diagnosed–it’s the entire family.”

Hoping to provide some of that support, Patten-Coble launched the organization.

“When I started this 7 years ago I never imagined that it would grow as fast as it would, or that people would take to it the way they’ve taken to it,” she said.

In those seven years, Little Pink has spread to offer families free retreats across eight states from Key West, Fla. to Lake Tahoe, Calif., providing families with a private house to stay in, a fully stocked refrigerator and a schedule of daily activities ranging from kayaking to concerts. Each retreat can host a few families at a time. The goal is to give families a chance to make fun memories together while connecting them to other people who are going through the same thing.

The vacations are completely volunteer based and now Patten-Coble wants to bring them to Austin, making a stop this week to get the ball rolling on a 2018 trip.

When Lammons’ family went on retreat, they spent a week in Myrtle Beach, S.C. joined by four other patients and their loved ones.

“You learn a lot about people having breast cancer,” she said. “You learn a lot not just about your family, you learn a lot about your friends, strangers, your community.”

She says the retreat gave her daughters and husband a chance to develop relationships with people they could relate to. She formed special connections with the other patients, too.

“We came together automatically, it felt very family-oriented,” she said. “You become like sisters.” Sadly, Lammons is the only ‘sister’ left.

She says when her time comes, she wants her children to remember one thing.

“That mom did everything to be here with them. For them and with them.”

If you’d like to donate to Little Pink Houses of Hope, or apply to attend a retreat, click here.

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