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A Place To Stay

American Cancer Society director of major gifts campaign Cathy Alsup, Charles Roessler of Kauai, Jacqueline Nalani Perreira of Maui, campaign cabinet member Larry Rodriguez, Alicia Bicoy of Molokai and Debra-Jean Kenui of Hilo in the modern kitchen of the newly built Hope Lodge Honolulu

American Cancer Society director of major gifts campaign Cathy Alsup, Charles Roessler of Kauai, Jacqueline Nalani Perreira of Maui, campaign cabinet member Larry Rodriguez, Alicia Bicoy of Molokai and Debra-Jean Kenui of Hilo in the modern kitchen of the newly built Hope Lodge Honolulu

IT’S HARD ON NEIGHBOR ISLAND CANCER PATIENTS WHO MUST TRAVEL TO OAHU FOR TREATMENT, SO AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY BUILT CLARENCE T. C. CHING HOPE LODGE HAWAII, WHERE THEY CAN STAY FREE OF CHARGE

Too often the fight against cancer can be a lonely one. Between one’s treatments, it becomes a staring contest between you and the unwelcome visitor that has taken up residence in your body. This feeling accelerates exponentially when you are forced to travel in search of your cure, which often is the case for anyone who lives on a Neighbor Island.

Alleviating this sense of alienation is the idea behind American Cancer Society’s Clarence T. C. Ching Hope Lodge Hawaii, a brand-new, $12 million facility built by ACS to give patients traveling in for treatments a home away from home. The lodge contains 20 suites on two floors, each with two twin beds, allowing a family member or caregiver to stay with the patient, plus a private bathroom and shower.

In the common area is a fully equipped kitchen so guests can cook their own meals, a library and resource center, and a garden — and ACS volunteers will assist guests with everything from checking in to cooking meals to driving patients to and from medical appointments.

An estimated 6,850 Hawaii residents were diagnosed with cancer this year, with 650 of them from Neighbor Islands. The new facility will be able to house nearly 500 of them per year, adding up to 7,300 nights of free lodging, which should save patients nearly $1.3 million per year in expenses.

“When you are going through this, you are living off a certain income,” says Nalani Perreira, a health care worker from Wailuku, Maui, who is battling breast cancer for a second time. “For me, I was living off of TDI (temporary disability insurance), plus you have medical bills, and you don’t know how long you are going to have to stay here for your appointments and treatments, you might have to fly back and forth. This will help them so you don’t have to worry about it financially for a hotel or a car.”

Guest suite with private bathroom

Guest suite with private bathroom

Perreira is all too familiar with cancer. Her mother and two aunts had breast cancer, prompting her to get involved in cancer-patient navigation through Imi Hale. She helps guide patients through the process and knows the struggles they face.

“Sometimes you don’t want to be a burden to your family, so you try to get a hotel,” says Perreira, who is fortunate enough to have relatives on Oahu. “But it is hard when you are living off of limited income, and I know a lot of patients go through the same thing, and many aren’t as lucky as me to have family on Oahu.”

One such person is Charles Roessler, who worked as a Tobacco Coalition coordinator for Kauai.

He lives in Kilauea and has had two battles with cancer over the past three years; first with his prostate and more recently with throat cancer. He acknowledges that rigors of travel were one of his biggest obstacles.

“It would have been great if I would have had a place like Hope Lodge, because it was difficult,” says Roessler, who made a half-dozen trips to Honolulu during his treatments. “I don’t have any immediate family here, so I had to stay at a hotel. It was very cold and distant; it was an unpleasant experience and expensive. I could have stayed another night, but I wanted to go home. That was a mistake. The taxi ride, the airplane, the drive back to my house were terrible. It was the worst pain of the whole experience. If I had a place to stay like the Hope Lodge and recuperate for a day or two, that would have made all the difference.”

Echoing his thoughts is Debbie Kenui from Hilo, who first faced breast cancer in 2003 before fighting it a second time in 2009. Her experiences with ACS have led her to volunteer at its Hilo branch as a way to give back for all the support it provided her.

Common area kitchen with modern appliances

Common area kitchen with modern appliances

“Traveling to Oahu is not an easy task for Neighbor Islanders,” says Kenui, who had to make a dozen trips in fall 2009. “We have great doctors on our island, but for some, we have to travel to Oahu or even to the Mainland, depending on the type or stage of the cancer. Your first task is finding a doctor, and then confirming services are covered under your medical plan. Then, you have to figure out how you’re getting there and where you are going to stay. The costs start to rise as you make your airline reservations, car rental or taxi reservations, and prepare for other expenses such as food, parking and co-payments. In some cases, patients stay at a hotel. The added financial burden and being unfamiliar of the roadways is just too great, so many elect not to travel.”

It is just this sentiment that created the genesis of a Hope Lodge in Hawaii. It came from an op-ed piece written by a former Kauai minister Gene Redden a decade ago to The Honolulu Advertiser. Back then, he was among the hundreds of cancer patients forced to travel to Oahu each year for their treatment. Insurance may cover treatments and doctor visits, but travel and housing expenses are not. With some treatments taking months to complete, the costs can quickly eat up anyone’s savings.

“Because of these problems, some cancer patients are forced to consider not pursuing treatment,” wrote Redden. “Their cancer might win because of a lack of money, housing or local treatment options. But, of all the needs, affordable housing is the one thing I am determined to resolve.”

The desperation of his words caught the attention of American Cancer Society Hawaii Pacific (ACSHP) board member Dr. Larry Tseu.

“I can’t imagine if I didn’t have the money to come to Honolulu to get treatment — that is a self-imposed death sentence,” says Tseu, whose wife battled breast and lung cancer before succumbing to the disease in 2008. “That is why I am involved because I can’t imagine not being able to come because I didn’t have the money.”

Financial considerations are just one facet for Alicia Bicoy of Molokai, who says having a family member be able to stay with her would be a huge asset. She has been battling an invasive ductal carcinoma since 2011. It has recurred twice, leading to a rash of biopsies, chemotherapy and a double mastectomy. Traveling over from the Friendly Isle, she has spent more than 60 nights in hotels longing for the comforts of home in this most uncomfortable time in her life.

“If I had qualified to stay at Hope Lodge during my treatments, I would have been closer to the hospital and been able to be a part of a community,” says Bicoy, who works as a manager for Monsanto and is anxiously awaiting the graduation of her fourth child. “I probably would have had a member of my family with me once in a while, too, more like home. Having privacy and being comfortable is vital.”

Common area living room and library

Common area living room and library

These concerns will be a thing of the past for many patients this Saturday when Hope Lodge opens its doors for the first time. It will conduct public tours of the grounds from noon to 4 p.m.

While it is just one concern on a list of many for those enduring the fight, having a place to call home when home is so far away can make all the difference.

“When you hear the word cancer, your whole world is turned upside down and you face uncharted waters,” says Kenui, who is seven years cancer-free and a grandmother to 3-year-old Leah. “You ride a roller coaster of emotions. Having a great support team is so key in your journey. I consider ACS as part of my team. They gave me the moral support I needed and helped me access resources I did not know were available.

“I am very excited about the grand opening of Hope Lodge Hawaii, and I am so grateful to ACS and the many, many partners and supporters who together turned a dream into a reality. Distance is no longer an obstacle to getting the care Neighbor Island folks facing cancer need and deserve.”

The work is not done. ACS will need an estimated $500,000 per year to run the facility, not to mention the volunteers required to provide rides and assist those in need.

If you would like to help or to learn more about the Hope Lodge Hawaii, you can find it at hopelodgehawaii.org.

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