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Hope Lodge: Home Away From Home for Cancer Patients
By Ann Tassone
Many cancer patients find free housing and hope while receiving medical care near one of these facilities, some with Catholic connections.


Creative Reuse
Positive Experiences
Journey of Change
A Promising Future
Other Hope Lodges With Catholic Connections
Vision of a Holocaust Survivor

The Hope Lodge in Cincinnati, Ohio, located in a former Catholic school, has hosted over 400 guests since 2004.
Photo Courtesy of the American Cancer Society

WHEN A CANCER patient lives far away from treatment, the thought of leaving home and finding a place to stay can be overwhelming.

As a relief to people in such situations, the American Cancer Society (ACS) has founded 22 Hope Lodges across the United States ( These facilities are supported entirely through contributions.

Hope Lodges provide free, temporary housing on a first-come, first-served basis to adult cancer patients and their companions during their course of treatment away from home. (Ronald McDonald Houses, which are similar, provide temporary shelter to families of children who are receiving treatment for various medical conditions.) For some cancer patients, being able to stay at a Hope Lodge makes the difference between whether or not they receive treatment.

Creative Reuse

Four Hope Lodges across the country have Catholic connections, including the one in Cincinnati, Ohio, which I visited.

The Cincinnati Hope Lodge is a large brick structure with peaked roofs and stained-glass windows: It looks more like a castle than a medical facility. Tracy Higdon, director, explains that the original section was built in the late 1880s to be the weekend home for a physician and his family.

In the early 1900s, the property became Ursuline Academy, a Catholic school that hosted kindergarten through 12th-grade girls. Despite additions over the years, the school needed more space and moved to another location in 1970.

Meanwhile, a feasibility study showed the need for a Hope Lodge in Cincinnati. “We found that 3,000 patients travel to Cincinnati on an annual basis for cancer treatment,” Higdon explains. Originally, there was a search for property on which to construct a new facility. “Then Cincinnati Children’s Medical Hospital introduced the idea of remodeling an existing building, offering our current location.” The hospital leases the property to the American Cancer Society.

Remodeling began in 2002 and continued until January 2004, when the Community Resource Center and local chapter offices of ACS opened.


Positive Experiences

“The Cincinnati Hope Lodge opened its doors to the first guests in October 2004,” says Higdon with pride. This spacious complex near area hospitals has 22 guest rooms. It has already hosted over 400 patients and caregivers from 28 Ohio counties and 16 states.

“Most of the time, we are about 60-percent full. Positive experiences and referrals will hopefully lead to a great future for this mission,” explains Higdon.

Last July, this facility was at 70-percent capacity, with 126 patients and their caregivers staying here, saving themselves nearly $50,000, reported the Cincinnati Business Courier. Shirley Johnson was one of those guests. Doctors in Atlanta, Georgia, had offered her little hope in her battle with recurring liposarcoma in her chest cavity. After a Cincinnati surgeon removed her tumor, Shirley says her prognosis is good. “I wouldn’t have been able to afford the lodging even if I had gone to the lowest-priced place available,” explains the retiree, who is on a fixed income.

Higdon says, “If a patient has access to treatment for cancer, then there is hope for a cure. Hope Lodge helps provide that access to treatment for patients who may otherwise not be able to travel to the treatment location.” One of the services offered guests is transportation to treatments.

“Hope Lodge is a way for guests to continue to lead normal lives, even after their lives have been altered,” she explains. “When they first come to the lodge, they are usually nervous. But once they realize the sense of community that this place has to offer, their spirits are entirely lifted.” She emphasizes that the goal is to make Hope Lodge “a home away from home.”

Sister Ruth Podesta is one of about 30 volunteers who help at the Cincinnati Hope Lodge. The Ursuline nun knows her way around the complex where she was once a student and later a teacher. “I’m so thrilled it’s being used for what it is,” she says on the ACS Web site.

“The meaning of hope is much clearer to me now that I’ve spent time with the beautiful, faith-filled people who come here,” explains Sister Ruth. “They help me much more than I help them.” Her favorite job is sending guests home, telling them, “Good-bye. I hope I never see you again.”

Journey of Change

The Cincinnati Hope Lodge has many of the same features as the other locations. But “what makes this location unique is its history,” says Bob Ange, assistant director. “Because of the Catholic history of this building, even as we’ve rebuilt, we’ve been able to keep elements of that.”

For example, the spacious room that was once the chapel of Ursuline Academy now is the comfortable great room, with a fireplace, games and a grand piano. “Just as the building has continually changed, so do our guests,”

explains Ange. “It is our hope that our guests can realize that their lives have changed, but that they can grow from the changes as well.”

The cozy library next to the great room has “books to fulfill every reader’s taste and also resource guides about cancer and its treatment,” notes Higdon. The balcony off the great room overlooks a courtyard with a fountain and inviting benches. She says guests often comment on this peaceful setting.

There are four kitchens at the Cincinnati Hope Lodge, where guests are welcome to store and prepare food. The large dining area in the former school can accommodate 60 people.

Cancer patients who stay here are required to have one caregiver and have the option of bringing two caregivers. Thus, each bedroom has a double bed and a twin bed, a private bathroom and a refrigerator for medicines. Other features at this complex include a chapel and an exercise room.

“Guests continually comment that the environment here is so peaceful, relaxing and comforting,” says Higdon. “Often, when people are going through cancer treatment, they may feel alone. But here they get that interaction that helps so much. They are surrounded by people who are going through the same thing, and that is so powerful.”

She is inspired watching cancer survivors cope: “Their strength and determination, their faith and hope are just amazing....It’s not just that I have something to give to these people: There is much I can receive from them as well.”

Despite the stress of managing this type of facility, Ange says, “At the end of the day, everyone is just so grateful. And it’s nice to feel appreciated.”

A Promising Future

Hope Lodges serve as community centers for a variety of cancer initiatives, programs and patient-support programs. In addition to the 22 facilities that already exist in this country, over 20 more are in development phases.

Guests have access to the American Cancer Society’s 24-hour toll-free call center, Web site and comprehensive on-site libraries. Thus, cancer patients and their loved ones can find vital information to help them make informed decisions about treatment.

Julie Behan, patient navigator, is thankful for a job that she can put so much into and at the same time get so much out of. She says, “Just knowing I am part of an organization that helps people in time of crisis is the best benefit of working here. I love meeting the people that my organization works to serve on a daily basis, and I get great joy out of knowing that I am a part of something so wonderful.”

Accommodations and eligibility requirements may vary by location. For more information, call the American Cancer Society at 800-ACS-2345.

Other Hope Lodges With Catholic Connections

IN ADDITION to the Cincinnati Hope Lodge, three others have Catholic connections. The 32-room facility in Indianapolis, Indiana, opened in 1997 and is currently being renovated. Located on the former campus of St. Vincent’s Hospital, this Hope Lodge has received contributions from the St. Vincent Guild. Volunteers include students who attend Catholic schools.

In 1980, the American Cancer Society in Rochester, New York, purchased the former Holy Angels convent and school for “troubled” girls, and converted the complex into ACS offices and a 12-room Hope Lodge. Some Catholic touches at this facility include stained-glass windows and confessionals. A local Catholic church is renovating some of the rooms.

One of the residents at the Rochester Hope Lodge was Mike Sumner from Georgia, reported The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. When Sumner’s cancer spread, forming 15 tumors in his lungs, doctors in Georgia told him his options were limited. He went to Rochester because a friend had gone there for cancer treatment. “The Hilton couldn’t do as well as these guys do,” says Sumner about his experience at Hope Lodge. “The people make it wonderful.”

The Joe Lee Griffin Hope Lodge in Birmingham, Alabama, which opened in 2000, is named after a longtime supporter who lost two wives to cancer before losing his own battle with the disease. Each of the 33 guest rooms has a private bath and sleeps two. This lodge provides a temporary home for about 700 families each year.

The Birmingham facility receives help from local Catholic organizations. For example, the Holy Family Altar Guild from St. Aloysius Church furnished Thanksgiving dinner for lodge guests. Students from St. Rose Academy brought teddy bears when they visited. Youth groups from Our Lady of Sorrows Parish made Christmas cookies and gave manicures to female guests. In the summer, students from John Carroll High School volunteer by registering guests, giving tours and helping with laundry.

William Ireland, Sr., is one of the donors who made the Birmingham Hope Lodge a reality. “This is the best thing that’s happened in my lifetime,” he says on the ACS Web site. “I’ve been through cancer myself, and I’ve seen people come a long way and have to go back [home] day after day. This [place] eliminates the travel; you can be taken to and from the hospital. This is outstanding for people who need it.”

Vision of a Holocaust Survivor

THE FIRST HOPE LODGE in the United States was established in 1970 in Charleston, South Carolina. The concept came from Margot Freudenberg, a Holocaust survivor who is now 99 and the longest-serving American Cancer Society volunteer in the country, says the American Cancer Society’s Web site. As a physical therapist, she was a leader in the medical and business communities of Charleston.

Margot traveled to New Zealand and Australia with President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s People-to-People Ambassador Program. In New Zealand, she saw a facility called Hope Lodge for cancer patients and their caregivers.

She was profoundly impacted by the idea and returned to the United States with a vision of starting a Hope Lodge here. After gaining the support of many business leaders in Charleston, her dream became a reality.

“Staying at Hope Lodge and interacting with other cancer patients and their loved ones was like a 24-hour support group,” says Angela on the ACS Web site. She was a newlywed when she resided at the Hope Lodge in Rochester, Minnesota, during cancer treatments. “Hope Lodge was a true blessing that eased our burden tremendously.”

Ann Tassone wrote this article when she was an intern at St. Anthony Messenger during the summer of 2006. Currently, she is a senior at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Mary Jo Dangel contributed to this article.


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