Hope away from home for cancer patients is becoming a reality

Published: Thursday, Sept. 20 2012 6:02 p.m. MDT

Katie Eccles and Zeke Dumke III announce plans for Hope Lodge in Salt Lake City Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints donated the land gift for the future site of the Hope Lodge which will house cancer patients receiving treatment in the area.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Marlene Knopp could have used a home away from home when she was traveling back and forth from Evanston, Wyo., for six weeks of chemotherapy treatments.

"It's a long trip if you have to do it every day and after I had the treatment, I'd get sick and that's a long ride home again," she said, adding that she almost bagged the treatment altogether because of the additional struggle, on top of dealing with an already overwhelming breast cancer diagnosis.

"I've seen so many doctors, I feel almost like a nut," Knopp said.

But she made the trek and is better because of the access she had to state-of-the-art treatment facilities found in Salt Lake City.

Knopp is one of about 4,500 patients who travel in and out of Utah each year for cancer treatment. In all, about 16,000 patients are treated in the Beehive State, putting sterile healing space at a premium.

Enter the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge, where, through the help of private donations, patients and caregivers can stay free of charge for whatever amount of time they need. The nationwide average stay is about 21 days.

The 43,000 square-foot facility isn't built yet, but is headstrong into a fundraising campaign, which kicked off privately about a year ago with the donation of a 2.2-acre plot of land from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The project is now more than halfway to its $18 million goal, with $10.2 million pledged by "generous" Utah donors, Hope Lodge board chairwoman Katie Eccles said. When it reaches $15 million, construction can begin.

The giving campaign launched officially on Thursday, with the American Cancer Society's annual Hope Gala.

"It will be the perfect complement to the world-class treatment services offered here," Eccles said. "This facility will remove the stress and worry about where to stay and how to pay for it, and also provide access to all the programs the American Cancer Society offers to patients and their families."

"They can focus all their energies on getting well," she said.

The Hope Lodge will join 31 American Cancer Society-operated live-in facilities in the country, but it will be the only one of its size and kind in the Intermountain West. The nearest available housing for patients is a six-room facility attached to the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. The next closest Hope Lodge is in Lubbock, Texas.

Salt Lake City's facility — at the northwest corner of 100 South and 400 East, where the old 13th Ward meetinghouse is located — will offer 42 private suites, each equipped with two beds, study/office space and a private bathroom.

The building will also house myriad common areas, including four communal kitchens, a large living room, a library, an exercise facility, an arts and crafts studio and multiple gathering spaces. An outdoor "healing garden" will also be available as a sanctuary for patients and their caregivers, said Zeke Dumke, vice chairman of Utah's Hope Lodge building campaign and a former caregiver to his breast-cancer-survivor wife.

"Oftentimes the treatment makes you feel worse than the cancer itself," he said, adding that interaction with others, including those suffering similar illnesses, is key to maintaining sanity and having better health outcomes.

"As a patient, you don't really want to go out, but that is sometimes exactly what you need to do," Dumke said. The suites won't have TVs or kitchens, which necessitates leaving the room. But he said available amenities at the proposed Hope Lodge will give tenants plenty of options for social interaction.

"Every person is looking for a different type of therapy," he said.

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