Cancer treatment can be a miserable experience during a terrifying time, and traveling many miles for that treatment can be inconvenient, expensive and even prohibitive.
The American Cancer Society wants to raise about $11 million to build and run a Hope Lodge in Omaha, where a patient who lives 50 or more miles away and a family member or friend can stay for free while the patient receives long-term treatment. The society expects the house, with 36 guest rooms, to be operational in 2015.
The lodge would relieve families in a cancer crisis of at least one pressure. The free housing would place a patient and his or her guest in a facility with people enduring similar crises, and ideally would provide a natural support system. The cancer society currently has 32 Hope Lodge homes around the country, including in Iowa City and Kansas City, Mo.
Darbi and Cody Warden of the Elkhorn area went to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in 2010 for surgery on what some doctors believed was an inoperable cancer tumor in Cody's brain. He spent five weeks at the Hope Lodge in Rochester, Minn., while undergoing radiation therapy following surgery that removed most of the tumor.
Cody Warden said it was remarkable to associate with the lodge's staff and other families. “They took care of me like I was their little brother,” Warden, 40, said. “They treated me like family.”
Darbi Warden said she and her husband made friends for life there, including couples from North Dakota and Wisconsin.
“I love the name 'Hope Lodge,' because it truly is hope in your darkest hour,” she said. People staying there have an immediate connection and are able to share their stories and fears. “You're not alone,” she said.
The American Cancer Society and its local campaign committee intend to place the Hope Lodge on 1.27 acres bounded on three sides by Dodge Street, 81st Street and Farnam Drive.
Doug Bottger, regional director of capital initiatives for the American Cancer Society, said the organization has raised 45 percent of the money and hopes to have it all by next spring.
Dr. Robert Langdon, president of Nebraska Cancer Specialists in Omaha and head of the Hope Lodge campaign committee, said the large house will provide a vital service for cancer patients. “I've had several patients who have struggled with lodging over the years,” Langdon said.
Langdon said the spot where the Omaha home will go is centrally located to serve cancer patients treated at Methodist, Alegent Creighton Health and the Nebraska Medical Center. Growing cancer programs in Omaha increase the need for a Hope Lodge here, he said. The lodge is expected to start operations about a year before the opening of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, the research tower and 108-bed inpatient treatment center at the Nebraska Medical Center.
Hope Lodge would be among several places for patients and families getting hospital care from Omaha providers or facilities. The Ronald McDonald House, 620 S. 38th Ave., serves children and families being seen at local medical facilities. Rainbow House, 7815 Harney St., serves the families and kids being treated at Children's Hospital & Medical Center. Children's has broken ground for a new Rainbow House at Farnam and Beverly Drives. The Ronald McDonald House and Rainbow House seek donations from their occupants but are free if no donation can be made.
Alegent Creighton Health offers discounted lodging at Hospitality House at Immanuel Medical Center. The Nebraska Medical Center has discounted hotel rooms in the Lied Transplant Center and in an area next to the transplant center. Methodist Hospital has lodging assistance programs at hotels through the cancer society and the hospital's foundation.
Staying at the Hope Lodge saved the Wardens more than $2,000 in hotel costs, and more on dinners, which sometimes are provided by Hope Lodge volunteers and supporters.
Cody Warden is working as an office equipment sales representative and doing well. Because some of the tumor remains, his prognosis is unclear.
The Wardens host a golf tournament each year to raise money for the cancer society and Hope Lodge.
“I just want people to get the best treatment and be where they need to be,” Darbi Warden said.
Her husband liked to play cards with others in Hope Lodge and she used to work on the jigsaw puzzles in the house's common areas. Sometimes she would get stuck on a puzzle and someone else would come along and find the right piece.
It struck her as an excellent metaphor for the Wardens' Hope Lodge experience. When they got stuck, immersed in their worry and fear, someone in the house would help them see the way more clearly. She would think to herself: “Oh, I can get past this now.”