By Ed Morrone
Scott and Carolyn Shook figured the biggest challenge they would face as a family in 2018 would be helping their only child, Krista, get through her senior year of high school and into her preferred college.
Cancer, as it usually does, had other plans for Krista and the married couple of 18 years.
Scott, who works as a customer service representative for an industrial gas company, first noticed something was amiss after noticing some lumps on the left side of his neck last year. He had a biopsy and discovered the lumps were in fact B-cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Scott was treated in the Lehigh Valley near the family home in Macungie, Pa., receiving six cycles of chemotherapy. He was done treatment by October of and was in remission until April of this year when the lumps returned, this time to the right side of his neck.
Oncologists tried to treat the lumps with a stronger form of chemo, but after two cycles, that proved to be ineffective. A stem cell transplant was considered, but with only a 10 percent chance for success, doctors instead sent Scott and his family to Philadelphia to enroll in a clinical trial at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Scott, who is also vision impaired, was on short-term disability from his job, so an extended stay in an expensive Philadelphia hotel was out of the question. With few options and nowhere to turn, Nick’s House Swarthmore again swooped in and provided a home for the Shook’s through the duration of Scott’s treatment. Following CAR T-cell therapy and treatment with clinical drug CC-122, Scott is in remission and back home in Macungie with Carolyn and Krista.
“This place has been a godsend,” Scott said during a recent chat at Nick’s House with his wife and daughter by his side. “Some lodging can be $200 a night, and then you do the math over the course of a couple weeks. It’s just a beautiful place, one with a homey atmosphere that makes you feel more comfortable than you would at a hotel. I especially loved seeing the porch all decorated for Halloween. Just really nice, down-to-earth people here.”
Carolyn, who works as a crossing guard back in the Lehigh Valley, was left equally impressed by the family’s new temporary home.
“I researched it online and thought, ‘Wow, this place seems really nice,’” she said. “Then you get here and realize the pictures don’t do it justice. Scott was in the hospital for a couple of days and Krista had to go home to go back to school, so I was here by myself. It felt comforting to know there would be other people here, as opposed to going back to a hotel room by myself. That really helped me a lot.”
Scott’s diagnosis had the biggest impact on Krista, 17, who was forced to grow up fast. In addition to focusing on her college search and holding down a job, Krista became Scott’s de facto caregiver when Carolyn was laid up following surgery last summer. She got her driver’s license and shuttled Scott to all his appointments, as well as picking up any medications he needed. She’s made the 55-mile drive from Macungie to Swarthmore multiple times to spend more time with her father while he was undergoing treatment.
“I’ve felt very welcomed here,” Krista said of Nick’s House. “Just knowing my parents are being well taken care of has made me feel a lot better. I was at home living alone the first week, which was scary for me at first, but knowing they were in good hands was a huge relief and weight off my shoulders. Knowing they were comfortable, welcome and able to get a good night’s sleep took away from some of my worries of the day.
“In the last year, I’ve had a lot of growing up to do with increased responsibilities. I knew I had to put my family first. I’ve been so thankful to come down here and see my dad. I’ve really missed both of my parents, so spending this time together at Nick’s House was a good thing for all of us.”
Now that Scott is in remission and out of Nick’s House, he and his family are looking forward to life returning to normal, and said they hope to to take some trips together next summer before Krista goes off to college.
“We’ve always been a close family,” Scott said. “But this experience has made us even closer and stronger for sure.”
Carolyn, through tears, concurred with her husband.
“This definitely has been a blessing, this house,” she said. “A big blessing for sure.”