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HOLDEN, Maine — If all goes to plan, Sarah Robinson’s dream will come true this summer. That’s when the former Fox Run Furniture Galleries building is scheduled to be reborn as Sarah’s House, a home away from home for cancer patients undergoing treatment at Eastern Maine Medical Center’s CancerCare of Maine facilities less than 3 miles away in Brewer.
Sarah’s House was the dream of Sarah Robinson, a young wife, mother and Old Town Rotarian who was diagnosed with cancer in 2010.
Sarah and her husband, Ben, had to travel from Old Town to Boston for treatment. Through that experience, they learned about places where cancer patients could stay for little or no cost during their treatment, according to Sarah’s House of Maine’s website.
When Sarah returned to the Lafayette Family Cancer Center in Maine, she met patients who, like her, had traveled hundreds of miles and spent hours in the car, driving from Maine’s most rural areas for treatment.
According to CancerCare of Maine, cancer incidence in the northern two-thirds of Maine is among the highest in the nation and patients in this region typically receive most of their care at the Lafayette Family Cancer Center in Brewer. On an average day, nearly 135 of those patients drive 30 or more miles each way for treatment.
In a typical year, eight patients from northern Aroostook County — more than 100 miles away — require three or more weeks of treatment. Nearly 85 more patients needing three or more weeks of treatment live in southern Aroostook and Washington counties, between 80 and 100 miles away.
Sarah wanted to provide them access to low-cost or no-cost temporary housing like she had seen in Boston.
Before she died in December 2011, Sarah brought together a group of Maine Rotarians, cancer survivors, civic leaders and treatment providers who formed a corporation to take on the task.
Seed money for Sarah’s House came from the sale of a house that the Old Town Rotary Club built on land donated by member Tommy Thornton of Milford.
A complete renovation to make the sprawling white structure in Holden suitable for cancer patients and their families began last weekend, according to Ben Robinson, board chairman for Sarah’s House of Maine.
Though the estimated budget for the overhaul — which includes installing sprinklers and a larger septic system — is $275,000, Robinson said, the actual cost will be lower because much of the work is being done by volunteers and much of the construction material likely will be donated.
Drawn up by WBRC Architects Engineers, plans for Sarah’s House show rooms for residents, a “great hall” with bar seating and a dining area, a quiet room, kitchen and laundry facilities.
Funding is in place for the initial work but more money is needed to make the hospitality house self-sustaining.
“We need to raise $3 million,” Ben Robinson said this week. “We are nearly one-third of the way there. We really have a lot of momentum right now and hope to keep moving forward.”
Ben Robinson said Sarah’s twin sister, Lindsay Turner, tracked down the building’s owner and got him to sell it to the nonprofit group, which worked out an arrangement under which it will make monthly payments of $3,500 to the seller for 20 years, for a total of about $840,000, including interest.
The deal included 95 acres — land that Robinson said someday will have trails and areas for campers.
“The home will serve eight to nine patients at one time at little or no cost,” he said. “It will most likely be a recommended donation, but for people who are unable to afford this, there will be no charge.”
Donations to Sarah’s House can be made online through www.sarahshouseofmaine.org or sent to Sarah’s House c/o EMHS Foundation, P.O. Box 931, Bangor, ME 04401.