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 (www.cancer.org).
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.
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
Remodeling began in 2002 and continued until January 2004, when the Community Resource
Center and local chapter offices of ACS opened.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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
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.