Home Away Boston offers oasis for families of children getting proton beam treatments

All it took was one phone call.

And Danielle Yumul had secured a furnished, two-bedroom apartment in Boston with a kitchen and laundry — rent-free. And a 10-minute shuttle ride to her youngest daughter’s proton beam treatments at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“I could not believe it was this easy,” said Danielle, mother of two daughters who have endured serious health complications over the years. “In between surgeries and watching my children suffer and fight for their lives, a lot of my time was spent fighting with insurance companies, hospitals, doctors’ billing services, collection agencies. Nothing was ever this easy.”

“That’s the point,” said Martha Bernard Welsh, executive director of Home Away Boston. “We wanted to make housing easy, safe and comfortable for families traveling from far away to MassGeneral for proton beam treatments. Childhood cancer is so disruptive to family life, so draining on emotions and finances, at least we could ensure housing was one thing not to worry about.”

During other health crises, housing had been a huge frustration for Danielle and a drain on the energy she needed to tap for her kids’ care. Doctors at a New York hospital performed two heart surgeries on Alyson before her first birthday. Danielle lived for four weeks in a parent’s room at the hospital. A cot for sleep. A locker for her belongings.

A year after Alyson graduated high school, she underwent two brain surgeries at a Pennsylvania hospital to remove a brain tumor. Danielle lived in the hospital’s nearby family housing facility with a common kitchen two floors down and a coin-operated laundry room three floors away.

“This was $60 per night for three weeks.” Danielle said. “And believe me, I was so grateful to have a room available for us. I was lucky.

“But when Alyson left the hospital after her first surgery and before we learned she would need the second surgery, she had to stay with me at this family facility. She still required close observation. But when I had to go down to the kitchen to cook her a meal or down to the laundry to wash clothes, I had to leave her alone. It was so unnerving.”

In Boston during Alyson’s eight-week proton beam regimen at Massachusetts General Hospital, mother and daughter lived in one of three Home Away Boston apartments located in fairly new apartment building in the Charlestown Navy Yard neighborhood. The venue offered comfort, rest and peace of mind that helped strengthen Danielle and Alyson during their fight with cancer.

“It provided a place I could prepare a meal, heat up food for me and Alyson and not have to leave her alone,” Danielle said. “It provided a washer and dryer, so I didn’t have to leave her. It provided fantastic views of the harbor, which distracted us and took our minds off our circumstances, as we watched the big boats, ripples in the water and ducks swimming. It was calming. It was mesmerizing. It was relaxing. And that was during the Boston winter with 25 inches of snow in one pop.”