Sarah’s Place: providing a home away from home for end of life care and more

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The living room at Sarah's Place. Sarah Roth's picture hangs above the couch, which pulls out into a bed. Photo by Megan Duncan

HANNIBAL, Mo. — Sitting on a small table beside the front door at Sarah’s Place, a no-cost home for patients on hospice, is a book filled with stories written about the lives of those who have stayed there.

From detailed accounts written by the families to a thank-you gratefully scrawled on a napkin before leaving the home in the wake of grief, the book and the home is in the memory of a Hannibal woman who lost her 13-battle with cancer in 2011.

Her name was Sarah Roth, and although she never stayed in the home that carries her name, Sarah’s story is the first one commemorated in the book. 

A Hannibal native and member of First Christian Church of Hannibal, Sarah had wished for a place like Sarah’s Place to go to when she was at the end of her life. She wanted to protect her family from having lingering memories of her death in their home.

Instead, she passed away in the hospital surrounded by family.

Her church, inspired by her faith during her fight with cancer, wanted to give others others a special place to stay during their last days of life.

Sarah’s Place, 1101 Church Street in Hannibal, is a ministry of First Christian Church, which provides a no-cost, comfortable and peaceful setting for hospice patients and their families during end-of-life days.

Sarah’s Place turned 10 years old in December, and Albert Kennett, member of the First Christian Church, wants people to know about the services they provide.

The home, which sits directly behind the church on Broadway, once belonged to a longtime member of the church who had passed away. The church purchased it when it became available in 2010. After completely gutting and renovating the home, they opened in 2013 as a hospitality house.

End-of-life patients must be on hospice and have a family member with them at all times, but Sarah’s Place is not a hospice house.

“When there is a family here, particularly if someone is on the last days of life with someone is with them 24 hours a day, we sometimes bring with them food or if they need something someone will go get it,” Kennett said.

Kennett said there are many reasons people might not want to die at home.

For some, their current living situation won’t work for hospice to come in, such as two-story homes or simply not enough room to bring in equipment. Others just don’t want to pass away at home or in the hospital.

“Once we had a couple who didn’t want to be at home and insurance made them leave the hospital so they were looking for a place to go,” Kennett said.

Sarah’s Place is also for more than just end-of-life care.

Kennett said the home often welcomes cancer patients and their families who need a place to stay through the week while on chemotherapy treatments at the James E Carey Cancer Center. He said they have had breast cancer patients who do morning and afternoon radiation treatments and need a place to stay in between.

There is no cost for the home, although some families leave donations or set up memorials.

The brochure also beside the front door states, “It is our hope that Sarah’s Place will provide a sheltering home filled with love and that all who enter will feel the touch of peace provided by our savior, Jesus Christ.”

Sarah’s Story

Sarah Roth was 31-years-old when she first began 9 months of chemotherapy treatments, followed by 6 weeks of daily radiation. 

After seven cancer-free years, she received the news no one ever wants to get.

The cancer was back.

At 38-years-old, in 2005, she started treatment for stage 4 breast cancer. Sarah was married with two children, 12 and 16.

Sarah shared her story before she died in 2011 with her church, which is memorialized in a transcript in the testimonial book at Sarah’s Place.

“My doctor told us that the normal length of time could be 1 to 3 years. This was hard to absorb,” she said in her speech. “Many, many tears were shed.”

Sarah fought hard, and in her battle, she inspired others to do the same.

During her first round of breast cancer, she found support in a group with women of all ages. When she received her second diagnosis, the group no longer existed, so Sarah enlisted the help of three friends and started her own support group.

“Together we started a group we named ‘Pinkie Pals’ for the pinkie promise we make to each other to support and love one another,” she said.

The program became an outreach for First Christian Church and started with four members and went up to 15 members from ages spanning 34 to almost 70-year-olds.

“We have seen women come in without any hope and within months, we have seen them turn around and start to share their story with the next new gal that comes in,” Sarah said.

As Pinkie Pals grew, the community support did too. Community donations from a garage sale dedicated to their cause inspired the girls in Pinkie Pals to also sell t-shirts supporting those with breast cancer.

The proceeds went to gas cards for the James E. Cary Cancer Center to distribute to those who are traveling for treatments. They also gave breast cancer patients up to $100 per month for support.

“I started to realize two things. God had shown me my purpose in life and how having breast cancer has shown me my blessings in life. I feel that God chose me to help others, to show gals that you can be strong and live a fulfilling life,” she said. “I know that I have a purpose, my life is rich and my family, friends, and church are such a wonderful support system.”

She also began setting personal life goals.

“My first one was to see my son graduate, checked off,” she said. “Next was to see my daughter start high school, checked off.”

She continued to check her goals, watching her children graduate college and even meeting her first grandson.

“The unexpected surprise of this bundle of joy that I desperately wanted to experience before my time was up. He is now two and a half years old,” she said. “Something else to keep me fighting for my life.”

Sarah continued to fight until 2011 when she died surrounded by family.

“I am strong, not in body strength but in faith,” she said in the conclusion of her speech.

Sarah continues to live through the power of her faith.

The First Christian Church’s brochure for Sarah Place describes the legacy.

“Sarah’s Place came into being through a web of that was drawn from Sarah Roth’s life journey. During her long and courageous fight with cancer, Sarah touched many lives.”

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