Wasser House seen as heaven-sent

The home, owned by College Place Presbyterian Church, has become a shelter for a family fighting cancer.

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Waiting for his family to finish snacking on apples and head out the door, Allan Linde, left, leans against the refrigerator in the kitchen of the Wasser House, a place for families to stay while a member is undergoing cancer treatment. While undergoing cancer treatments Linde spends the week living in the Wasser House, owned by College Place Presbyterian Church, and the weekends with his family in La Grande, Ore.

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Allan Linde climbs into the driver's seat of his black SUV to leave the Wasser House for the weekend to spend time at home with his family in la Grande, Ore. Linde spends the week undergoing cancer treatments in Walla Walla and staying at College Place Presbyterian Church's Wasser House, a home for families with a member undergoing treatments in Walla Walla.

COLLEGE PLACE -- They had no idea what they were going to do, the LaGrande, Ore., couple recalled.

Allan Linde and Pauline Middleton had already taken some hard hits in 2010 when Linde was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer in October.

They had lost her brother-in-law, who was also Linde's closest friend, on April 7. Two weeks later Linde's and Middleton's unborn -- and first child together -- died.

Then came the cancer, overwhelming the two, who parent her five children and his daughter. Until early spring, that is, when a new baby will join the family. Allie Mae is due in March.

From that rural and mountainous pocket of Oregon, the family could look south to Boise or north to Walla Walla for cancer treatment.

Linde, 48, works in janitorial services for Grand Ronde Hospital and worried about how he would afford lodging and all the extras that piggyback on the tail of serious illness.

He and Middleton, who is employed as a housekeeper in a retirement community, were already saving everything they could to get a home of their own, Linde said. "We had a lot of plans. Then we got this dropped on us."

Peterson faces challenge

Across a mountain pass and 80 miles away, the Rev. Robin Peterson understands about changed plans.

The pastor of College Place Presbyterian Church has been treating his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma for the past five years. His cancer changed from small cell and slow growing to large cell and aggressive last summer. He is in Seattle for now, medically preparing for a stem cell transplant in early January. Afterward, he will need to stay in the area for several months as doctors watch for any sign of potentially life-threatening infection.

He's blessed, the pastor said, to have the home of a friend to use, where his wife and children -- including oldest daughter, Hanna, who is to be her father's stem cell donor -- can join him for the duration.

Between his ministry and his own illness, Peterson, 59, became acutely aware the Walla Walla area offered no dedicated housing for families with children to stay with a loved one going through treatment at Providence St. Mary Regional Cancer Center, he said.

Herring Guest House, owned by the hospital, is right next door but suitable only for housing one or two adults in each of its five bedrooms. Motel lodging quickly grows expensive, especially when meals out are tacked on.

What about, he wondered, the modest home next door to his church? Could it become shelter for families facing the storm of cancer?

College Place Presbyterian had purchased the two-bedroom house when it came up for sale in 2005, as a way to expand classroom space and storage.

That vision didn't evolve the way the congregation expected, however, and the home sat largely unused, Peterson said.

When church member Judy Holloway and co-cordinator Peggy Cox toured the little house to list rehab needs, it was clear much work was called for.

Most of the pipes needed replacing, every room needed new flooring and every household appliance needed updating.

Like he's come to expect from his congregation, 100-plus volunteers took on the Wasser House -- named after a longtime church family -- with open hearts, generous donations and a willingness to dig in, Peterson said. "It's just really consistent with the kind of thing they do all the time."

In addition, support from the community poured in. Plumbers plumbed, flooring professionals glued and stretched and merchants offered everything from vinyl to an unasked-for new dishwasher.

"It was like a miracle," Holloway said. "I call it the house that God built."

House becomes haven for family

"I call this the house that God built," Middleton said last week as she shepherded children and packed totes to take back home. "He had it ready at the perfect timing."

She and all of the kids had arrived from LaGrande the day before to keep Linde company. Since Nov. 17, two days after the home was ready for occupancy, he has stayed Monday through Friday at Wasser House while receiving treatment.

Before he knew about the church's project, Linde had no plan for how to jump the housing hurdle, he remembered. "I figured I would drive back and forth all week."

That was before he understood the exhaustion and emotional struggles that would come with working toward the cure, he said. The house, along with the many meals prepared and provided by College Place Presbyterian Church members, has answered his every need for now.

Another round of chemo, then radiation, awaits Linde. The non-operable cancer has attached to his spine and the hope is that chemo will continue to shrink the tumor, he said. "I'm just trying to get back to work."

Middleton comes to visit as often as she can, but options are limited between school schedules, her work and the growing baby. In those times, other family members accompany Linde to Wasser House.

"It's a blessed house, I can tell you that," Linde said. "Me and Robin are going to be good friends. He basically brought my faith back. And with that, my faith in man."

It took cancer to allow her family see they couldn't do everything alone, Middleton said. "We do things ourselves. But this house is a blessing. And Robin ... he is heaven sent. I think he is an angel is disguise."

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