Jim is 80 years old, fighting prostate cancer, and filled with absolute…joy.
“Because,” he says, “I have found hope.”
Jim is one of the 45 guests of American Cancer Society’s Astrazeneca Hope Lodge, a free lodging center for cancer patients and their caregivers in Boston. Situated amid Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and many other local cancer treatment facilities, Hope Lodge offers its guests a comfortable and safe place to stay while receiving critical cancer care. As a recipient of a Catholic Health Foundation grant, the lodge is reshaping the look and feel of cancer treatment.
“I walked in here in early July, wondering what this place was really all about and I was stunned,” Jim recalls. “The hospitality, the beautiful facility… it’s like a high-class hotel in Boston with private suites and every amenity you can think of,” Jim reports excitedly. “It’s unreal! I never imagined such a thing possible.”
Hope Lodge evolved from the need and desire to help out-of-town cancer patients access care at the area’s premier cancer care facilities. Such patients are often forced to decide between long exhausting drives to and from treatment appointments or trying to afford costly accommodations closer to their cancer center. And for some, like Jim, neither option is tenable.
“I live in Binghamton, New York. I saw a series of doctors back home but was eventually directed to a physician at Mass General. I am an Orthodox priest and still serve my parish 325 miles away. I thought, ‘How am I going to serve them if I need to be in Boston for seven weeks?’” Jim wondered. “And I certainly couldn’t afford to live in Boston.” The lodge, however, allows Jim the opportunity to receive treatment during the week and then commute home on the weekends to assume his pastoral duties.
Anticipating a patient’s every need is what makes Hope Lodge a truly special place. In addition to providing comfortable and inviting living accommodations, they also provide transportation to and from treatment appointments, workspaces for caregivers to work remotely, many facility amenities (including a fitness center, a theater, and several libraries), and- perhaps best of all – a supportive community that truly empathizes with one another.
“It feels like a second family,” notes Jim. “No question about it. I’ve made friends here that I will cherish, and I’ve made memories that will last forever. As the first part of Genesis states in the Bible, it is not good to be alone, especially in your sufferings. Going through cancer is tough stuff but here, there is a whole different kind of spirit. It’s a spirit that is the consequence of generosity.”
Whether it’s a free dinner, a magic show, or simply resting on the patio after a long day of tests and treatments, Hope Lodge offers patients pleasant distractions from an otherwise uncomfortable journey. “My aim is to take people’s minds off their worries as much as possible,” Angela, a staff member, shares. She works not only to stave off patients’ anxiety but also strives to develop new and innovative ideas for entertainment. Through her daily responsibilities, she becomes emotionally attached.
“When patients finish their treatment and go home, it is bittersweet. I am always happy that they’re leaving because that means their treatment is over and they’re (hopefully) better, but I miss them so much when they’re gone.”
As Jim and his wife of 51 years (also his caregiver) prepared to move back to Binghamton at the end of his treatments, it wasn’t just personal belongings that Jim packed up on his final day at the Lodge.
“These doctors here- they’re not gods. They do the best they can. We know that some people will receive treatments that don’t work and won’t change the grim outcome. But what they and this facility do? They give us hope. And that is the very best medicine of all.