Keys to Hope: Aggie Creates Condo for Cancer Patients

Most people have heard of the Ronald McDonald House, a place where families can stay while their children are undergoing treatment.

What you may not know is there's a place for breast cancer patients to stay near MD Anderson in Houston, and it was started by an Aggie, fighting her own battle with the disease.

Toni Thurlo feels right at home at her Houston condo. But it's not her home, it's just a temporary residence.

"This is so wonderful to have. It was beyond my expectations coming here," Toni Thurlo said.

The 51 year old from Kansas City, Missouri was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in April of this year.

A rare and aggressive form of cancer, MD Anderson in Houston has the world's first IBC clinic to help treat it.

"I believe it was a total God thing that this happened because I had no idea where I was going to live. I just knew I needed to be here at MD Anderson to receive the best treatment possible to fight this devastating disease," Thurlo said.

And it was someone else fighting that same disease who made it all possible.

At 37, Rachel Midgett was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer and given just two years to live.

But that didn't stop Rachel from helping others.

"She never felt sorry for herself. She was strong through all of it and I gained strength from her," Rachel's mother Faye Brown said.

While attending Texas A&M University, Rachel's parents moved to College Station, where they live today.

"Rachel had a big heart, always did. She was always for the underdog," Rachel's father Larry Brown recalled.

That's what drove her to start Suites of Hope.

Rachel and her husband live just ten minutes from MD Anderson, where she underwent cancer treatment.

But she soon realized that out of town patients weren't as fortunate.

So she bought a condo, about a mile from the Houston medical center, where cancer patients can live for up to three months for free, so they can focus on treatment rather than paying for hotel rooms.

"When you go there to stay, there's everything. You don't have to bring anything but your clothes and food," Faye Brown said.

"She realized there are people who are not in clinical trials not participating in research that ultimately could lead to a cure because they can't afford to be here," Rachel's husband Clint Midgett said.

To raise money for the condo and other breast cancer programs, Clint and his friend, Nathan Bane, started a fundraiser called Pink Pigeons, a sports shooting competition.

"It was literally an idea on the back of a napkin when Nate and I were crying over our beer one night over Rachel's situation. We were feeling helpless, like we're guys, we're men of action. We want to try and do something and we're in a situation where we feel helpless," Clint recalled.

And Rachel was the perfect spokesperson.

"It's not just fluffy pink and pink ribbon cute stories. It's real life and it kills, breast cancer kills," Rachel Midgett said at the fundraiser in October 2012.

On August 14, four years after her diagnosis, the disease took Rachel's life.

"We had some unbelievable years. To be told to expect two and get four, we felt extremely blessed by that," Clint said.

"She's going to be missed, but she's going be remembered and that's what's important," her mother Faye Brown said through tears.

Back at Suites of Hope, Toni Thurlo said, "It's just amazing that this woman has done this for other patients. She had so much to give people."

Everywhere you look in the condo, you'll find reminders of Rachel, most prominent are the keys she left behind.

It was her special message to those fighting her same battle -- at Suites of Hope, you'll find the keys to hope.

"I really miss her, but her legacy will live on through Suites of Hope," Thurlo said.

In just its third year, the Pink Pigeons skeet shooting competition raised $115,000.

Rachel's plan was to buy more condos where out of town cancer patients could live for free while undergoing treatment.

If you'd like to donate to Suites of Hope, there's a link below.

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