Casa Mausi is a place of grace in Panama City, a large airy guesthouse surrounded by trees away from the fumes and bustle of downtown. Its temporary residents are cancer patients who lack social security coverage but who make the long trek to the capital for treatment. Once they get there though, they have nowhere to stay, to eat, or to receive basic support. Long bus rides back to their villages or towns between treatments are simply not feasible for those who are seriously ill and living on the edge, so until the advent of Casa Mausi, they made do sleeping on the streets or stairwells around the public Cancer Center.
Witnessing this reality, a young privileged Panamanian mother undergoing treatment for leukemia at a private hospital envisioned the guesthouse I was invited to visit after a regional meeting to launch the Lancet Report on Pain and Palliative Care. Carol, or “Mausi,” who was a devout Catholic, would ask the Lord “why me? Why are you putting me and my daughter through this agony?” The answer was revealed when her oncologists showed her the harsh reality of their patients who had nowhere to go between treatments. According to Karinthia, the director of Casa Mausi, “Mausi reflected on the fact that no matter how challenging her experience as a cancer patient was, she had resources and family support, whereas her fellow Panamanians from the countryside had absolutely nothing when they came to the city.”
The Foundation created after Mausi’s death is supported by wealthy individuals, corporate donors, hundreds of volunteers, and regular fundraising events such as the bingo marathon held every April. Although average age is 35-50, patients range in age from 18-93. There are 28 regular beds for men and women in separate dorms, and six ‘extra’ cots to accommodate overflow, often patients returning for checkups once their course of treatment is over.
With an annual budget of around 250K American dollars, the staff and volunteers do a lot of fundraising to keep the place open and the staff paid! Although all the board members are Roman Catholic, Casa Mausi serves patients of all faiths or no faiths. The only criteria are need, which assessed by a social worker, and the presence of a caregiver. As the population ages and confronts growing rates of cancer, there are plans to expand the house and staff.
I had the pleasure of meeting two residents, who we shall call Artemisia and Juan, in the pleasant garden gazebo. Both were returning for checkups and biding their time until later that day when the Casa Mausi van returned their fellow guests from treatment. When I asked Artemisia, from Chiriquí (in the far north of the country) where she would be staying if Casa Mausi didn’t exist, she shook her head in wonder and said “probably in the street.” Casa de Mausi is truly a corporal work of mercy in action!