COLUMBIA — Joel Berry was the first patient to stay at the Wyatt Guest House, the home away from home for patients at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center.
On Friday, he will be back. Berry will help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Ernest and Eugenia Wyatt Guest House, which has served 3,000 patients since it opened in 2001.
The celebration is intended to be a small, private affair with the hospital board, donors and former patients.
The guest house was established after the Wyatts made a donation to memorialize Eugenia Wyatt's sister, who was diagnosed with cancer and treated by Dr. Fischel. After she died, the Wyatts wanted to create a comfortable environment for patients and their loved ones.
The guest house serves as both a hotel and a support center for patients from the neighboring cancer center. It has 12 bedrooms, with all the amenities of a hotel room,including matching double beds and a basket of travel-size toiletries next to the sink.
Patients have access to a fully stocked kitchen and laundry room facilities. They can also browse in a library equipped with books and two computers, or rest in a comfortable living room stocked with DVDs.
"They only charged me $20 a night," Berry said. "And it was a wonderful experience to stay there. We even saved money on food because we got to use their kitchen while we were there."
Berry was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001 and came to Ellis Fischel Cancer Center for treatment at the recommendation of his personal physician. At the time he was working in a factory to make ends meet and money was tight, he said.
He and his wife, Virginia, stayed at the guest house during the week while he was in Columbia for treatment and drove 200 miles home to Lamar on weekends.
Berry said they stayed at the Wyatt Guest House for nearly eight weeks. He completed his last treatment the day before Thanksgiving in 2001.
"The doctors in Columbia were wonderful, but staying at the guest house was even better," Berry said. "It was just like being at home."
Janet Turnbull, coordinator of the guest house, said outpatients from Ellis Fischel Cancer Center have first priority to stay at the guest house, but families of patients can also rent rooms while loved ones are receiving treatment.
"Patients also come over here to hang out during the day, like if they have one treatment in the morning and one in the evening," Turnbull said. "They’d rather spend their time somewhere comfortable like this instead of waiting in a doctor’s office."
Most of the patients come from rural areas and travel 100 miles or more for treatment, she said. Providing a place to stay helps patients save money on gas, hotel rooms and food expenses.
"Ellis Fischel is the official cancer center of Missouri," said Matt Splett, media coordinator of public relations. "We serve patients from every county in Missouri and it’s nice that we can give them somewhere to stay while they’re here."
Splett said that the mission of the guest house was to make things easier for patients traveling to receive treatment.
"A patient shouldn’t have to worry about finding a hotel room or where their next meal is coming from," he said. "Their focus needs to be on beating cancer."