A fresh start for lodge housing cancer patients

Renovations: A 15-year-old `home away from home' funded by the American Cancer Society closes for 3 months of remodeling work.

May 31, 2002|By Nora Achrati | Nora Achrati,SUN STAFF

It is a tricky operation sometimes, cleaning house. It is trickier still with a house for 26 families, each fighting cancer.

But that is the operation getting under way this week at Hope Lodge on the west side of downtown.

Fifteen years ago, the American Cancer Society opened the Baltimore Hope Lodge - one of 14 in the United States and Puerto Rico - to provide a free alternative to hotels for patients receiving cancer treatments and their companions.

During the summer, the lodge will get its first makeover. The 26-bedroom facility, which serves about 450 people a year, will close Sunday for interior renovations: new carpets, safer bathrooms, new wallpaper, a fresher courtyard and more. The work is expected to take about three months and cost $565,000.

"There comes a time in every house when there needs to be work done," said Alva Hutchinson, regional vice president of the cancer society who is overseeing renovations. "When it's finished, we'll be serving patients in a nicer facility."

Hope Lodge stopped accepting long-term guests - those who must stay a month or more - at the beginning of the month. Even so, the renovations will displace a few patients who must find alternative accommodations for the summer. Several will move to the rehab center of the University of Maryland Medical Center. Others went to the homes of relatives and friends in the area, and one rented an apartment.

Most patients, long- and short-term, were lucky enough to go home before today's move-out date.

Take Billie Mundell, 55, whose leukemia was diagnosed in September. She and her husband, Larry, 65, live on the Eastern Shore but stayed at Hope Lodge after she received a bone marrow transplant at the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Transplant Center last month.

When it became clear that she would need a transplant - and extensive outpatient treatment - she and her husband began to worry: Doctors had told them they would have to stay in the area after the transplant for follow-up visits.

"Once they said we could only be a half an hour away, I said to myself, `What are we going to do?'" Larry Mundell said. "We could have gotten a hotel room, anywhere upwards of $100 a day, plus parking, plus meals."

Hope Lodge, Larry Mundell said, is "a godsend."

"It's a home away from home," he said.

The Mundells returned home this week.

Hope Lodge is the only place in Baltimore where adults and their families can stay free when they are in town for cancer treatment, Hutchinson said. People from around the world come to Baltimore's cancer-treatment facilities, and the lodge has had visitors from Greece, Turkey and Portugal and from throughout the United States.

Its reputation for having a family atmosphere puts it in high demand among patients, said Karen Seaberry, the lodge manager.

The lodge is on West Lexington Street, next to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Patients travel to the medical center or Hopkins via shuttle bus. The lodge's $200,000 annual budget is funded by donations to the American Cancer Society, both local and national.

Seaberry is the "mama hen" to residents and is making sure that their transition out of Hope Lodge goes smoothly.

She lives at the lodge five days a week, where she oversees the volunteers and 13 staff members. She worked with Hutchinson to sort through the details of the renovations, which are being financed by fund-raisers held last year.

"There's a whole team that's doing this," Seaberry said. "My part is to get the house together and start packing up."

Packing starts after the last patients leave today.

Seaberry and Hutchinson list a slew of changes in store for the lodge: a new security system, a nicer look for the outdoor courtyard, new vent covers.

The communal kitchen - four kitchen units in one room - was renovated in 1998, but the nearby dining area and television room haven't been touched. They'll get new carpeting and perhaps new furniture.

The library, which functions as a meeting room and a computer lounge, will be devoted to books and Internet access. A storage room will be converted into a conference room.

And the bedrooms will see changes: One of the two single beds in each room will be replaced by a double bed to accommodate patients who sleep with medicine packs, and a private storage closet will be added to each room.

"They may sound like simple changes, but they really will impact on people staying here," Hutchinson said.

Hope Lodge is scheduled to reopen at the end of the summer. Seaberry and the cancer society are planning a reunion to celebrate the lodge's 15th anniversary and the survivors who have passed through.

With about 62 percent of people who have cancer surviving at least five years after diagnosis, Seaberry looks forward to the prospect of a big turnout for the reunion.

"We hope we see a lot of people coming back to us," she said.

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