Finding Hope at Hope Lodge
One day I was running and teaching high school, and the next I was lying on my floor, screaming in pain from a broken hip. An MRI later that week revealed possible danger lurking in my bones, and I was sent for consultation and diagnosis to the University of Minnesota, four hours from where I lived. My son went to stay with his dad, my daughter held down the fort at home, and my friend Steve drove me to Minneapolis. We got a hotel, fully expecting to be sent home with a “Sorry, false alarm!” but before I even was released from the hospital after my bone biopsy, a nurse coordinator had made arrangements for us to stay at the Hope Lodge.
We had never heard of the Hope Lodge before, and financially, it was a godsend. I had already spent over $700 for a six-night hotel stay -- and that was with the medical discount and without food. The Hope Lodge was completely free, and although they didn’t provide meals, dinners were served by volunteers several nights a week. Community cabinets, fridges, and freezers were well-stocked with leftovers and donated food, and the tea and coffee were always hot -- and free.
Arriving at Hope Lodge
As grateful as I was to ease the financial strain, I couldn’t make peace with the fact that I was going to be staying in a house for people with cancer. And as I looked around that first day, it was clear that I was one of the youngest residents there. How was I supposed to fit in with a community to which I never wanted to belong? Why was the pale, bald gentleman struggling to sit up and eat his food instead of staying in the solitary comfort of his room? I didn’t know how I was ever going to get used to being sick amongst strangers. I was still holding onto the hope that this was all a huge mistake and I would be getting kicked out and told to go back home.
The first couple of days were rough. I grudgingly wheeled myself down to the dining area for a dinner Steve had prepared, not wanting to be around anyone in such a fragile emotional state. A married couple joined me in the elevator, and the woman asked if I was alright. I burst into tears, and so did she. Thus began the realization that I wouldn’t be going through this alone, even if I wanted to.
As we got out of our room for appointments and meals, people recognized we were new, and they went out of their way to make us feel at home. Conversations in the dining area, the shuttle, hallways, and lounges buoyed my spirits and became a source of much-needed inspiration and strength. By the time I had been officially diagnosed with multiple myeloma, I had already accepted it. I was no longer surrounded by strangers. Wrapped in the love and support from the staff and guests at Hope Lodge, I felt like I could face anything.
Friendship and laughter
For the next two months, Hope Lodge became home and family. I met so many interesting people: a Qigong master, a Catholic hermit, and a Santa Claus. I even met people from my small hometown that I hadn’t known before. I got to know two other ladies with multiple myeloma and many other patients and caregivers, some of which became lifelong friendships. My friend Lynn and I got together many times after our stay at Hope Lodge, and I held her hand as she died six months later from metastatic breast cancer.
Every day I would spend hours talking, crying, and laughing with others about life, love, and all that truly mattered. On many evenings, dinner conversations brought such uproarious laughter that the atmosphere felt more like that of a college dormitory than a cancer lodge. And every Thursday night, the rowdy weekly bingo games healed our hearts and minds as we laughed so hard that we cried and enjoyed giving away our fiercely-won prizes more than accepting them ourselves. Despite and because of my diagnosis, I was having a ton of fun.
Leaving Hope Lodge
After two months away from my kids, I was finally packing for home. My youngest daughter was graduating from high school, my oldest was coming home from college for the summer, and I hadn’t seen my son for more than an hour since I’d been gone. I could get my weekly treatments in my hometown, but I knew I would never be able to replace the community that I was leaving behind. I had entered Hope Lodge terrified and alone. I was leaving with the love and support of a newfound family, renewed hope that the world was truly a good place, and faith to accept whatever lay ahead. Hope Lodge gave me so much more than a free place to stay; it had given me two of the best months of my life.
What type of blood cancer are you or your loved one diagnosed with?