HOUSTON - The American Cancer Society has unveiled its new Hope Lodge for out-of-town cancer fighters. It has been in the works for years, delayed by the pandemic, but they couldn't be happier to offer this safe haven to help patients peel off layers of financial and emotional stress.
The goal is to serve as a home away from home. The Hope Lodge has officially opened its doors and can now bring comfort to families battling cancer and seeking treatment in Houston.
"Each suite is capable of housing a cancer patient and their caregiver in a way that is as close to home-like as can be. We do know through data and research that patients do better when they're in a home-like setting, but the advantage here as well is that this is so close to the major medical centers serving cancer patients here in Houston. We have shuttle buses and take cancer patients and their families back and forth," states Karen Knudsen, CEO of American Cancer Society
Almost 130,000 patients travel to Houston every year for cutting-edge cancer treatments. Many of them stay months here for life-saving treatments. That not only gets expensive, but lonely. Now patients will have a chance to connect with others who better understand what they're going through at the Hope Lodge, named after the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation.
"What better place to be than right here, in the heart of Texas? You do have the largest facility of all of them, so thank you once again for everything you've done, it means a lot to our family and count on us to keep it going because we care deeply about each and everyone," says Richard M. "Dick" Schulze, who is the Founder of his family's foundation.
The McNair family in Houston has also been instrumental in helping bring the lodge to life. We met up with the late former Houston Texans Owner Bob McNair and his family four years ago, when Hope Lodge was in the planning stages. His foundation matched donations to raise millions of dollars for the project. Now his son, Cary, carries on the legacy.
"To be able to have someplace that gives you sort of a collegial feeling, you're not isolated, you can be there with some families and friends, you're around other people who are going through the same thing, that's so important so that you don't feel alone in this battle with cancer. For us, obviously, it's very personal. My dad lost his battle with cancer in November of 2018. My mom and my wife are cancer survivors. We all have family and friends who have been affected, so we feel what they go through and it can be very lonely," explains Cary McNair, with the McNair Foundation.
Demand will be high. They'll choose the patients on a case-by-case basis.
"It's made in a 'boots on the ground decision' between the medical system and the American Cancer Society. Obviously, we prioritize our rooms for patients who truly have a need. That can be a financial need, it can be a medical need, but when you think about a cancer patient, for people who have not had that kind of experience in their family, often what's not considered is that they are frequent fliers. They are coming in every day for four or five weeks for chemotherapy or radiation therapy so that proximity to the cancer center is absolutely key to have their caregiver with them to help them understand the cancer journey is all so important, so we look at all factors," says Karen.
The state-of-the-art facility will provide all of the comforts of home and more, from a peaceful zen meditation room to a help-yourself-pantry and a workout facility, just blocks from the cancer treatment centers.
"When you look up on the hill , as you're on (Highway) 288, you'll be able to see the Hope Lodge and of course that intersection of Holcombe and OST and 288 is becoming the gateway to the medical center, so it's wonderful that Hope Lodge is right there," smiles Cary.
There are about 30 Hope Lodges around the country and this one is the largest, with 64 patient suites. Many patients end up turning down treatment because they can't afford to travel here, but hopefully, this will stop that problem for many families.