He Found a Home Away From Home

January 12, 2017
By: Julie Poucher Harbin, Writer, DCI

“Caring House provides a well-needed service and you certainly can’t beat the price,” quips brain tumor patient Ken Baysden, enjoying a game of cards in the great room with Caring House community development manager Sasha Zabavin. “The facilities are in nice shape and the people are just as friendly as they can be. What else could one ask for?”A recently retired electrician whose roots on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast date back five generations, Ken Baysden loves to take his boat out fishing around the cut banks of Bogue Sound. He grew up on the water and doesn’t like to be away for too long.

But last summer a six-week series of radiation treatments at Duke Cancer Center following brain tumor surgery — a good three hours away —  left the self-described “homebody” with no choice but to set up camp far from home.

A temporary stay at Caring House, a home away from home dedicated to Duke cancer patients, helped ease the separation and also the financial burden of an extended stay.

This is the Baysden’s favorite photo of Ken on the boat he’s had for 24 years. Taken around 2003, he’s teaching their son Carl to drive the boat and maneuver around sand bars.“We didn’t expect these bumps in the road,” said Ken, whose plan for retirement was to enjoy free time with his beloved wife, Ginny, and his prized boat, not at a far-away hospital. “Caring House was so welcoming and the patients there were like family to us. They understood the challenges we faced, and the time went by quickly.”

Ken was first referred to Duke neurosurgeon Ali Zomorodi, MD, last May for a delicate surgery to remove a recurring meningioma brain tumor that was causing excruciating headaches and a dramatic deterioration of his eyesight. (Doctors closer to home had made multiple attempts to remove the tumor in 2007, 2012, and 2014, before sending him to Duke.)

In late June, Zomorodi advised the follow-up radiation sessions to treat the parts of the tumor that were too close to the optic nerve for a surgical intervention, and recommended the Baysdens stay at Caring House.

Ken Baysden had brain tumor surgery last May shortly after their son Carl’s graduation from basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia (with Ginny above). Recently cleared of his tumor, Ken proudly showed-off their airman son around town when Carl returned home to Morehead City, NC, this Christmas.Caring House was established more than 30 years ago when six women, united by their passion for community and commitment to Duke, recognized the need for comfortable, supportive and affordable housing for Duke patients undergoing treatment for cancer.

In their family Christmas letter, Ken and his wife and caregiver Ginny described Caring House as a “Godsend” and urged friends and family to “consider supporting” the non-profit that gave them the opportunity to rest, recuperate, and to socialize at their own pace. Ken had coffee many mornings with a couple of patients he met from Virginia. Ginny enjoyed meeting and chatting with new people over puzzles. When it wasn’t too hot, they enjoyed contemplative moments in the landscaped grounds and a golf-cart tour of nearby Duke Gardens.

Although he lost his sense of smell and his eyesight has worsened as a result of his many surgeries, Ken, a man of faith, said he considers himself very fortunate. When he visited Zomorodi for a follow-up in November, his scans were clear.

With a return to both health and the Carolina coast he loves, Ken continues to count his blessings. The frustrations of the past several years diminish when he considers his newfound second chance at life and the support and care he received at Caring House.

To ensure continued access to its services, Caring House hosts an annual Gala Benefit. The 2017 gala—held Saturday, Feb. 18, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Washington Duke Inn and Country Club in Durham, NC—honors Christopher G. Willett, MD, Chair, Department of Radiation Oncology.