Volunteering at Hope Lodges

During college, I was actively involved in Relay For Life. My mother was a breast cancer survivor who took over leadership of our small town's Relay For Life committee and I too became very involved in the event. I acted as various roles on the committee and was also a team captain of a Relay For Life team. Having seen my mother's battle with cancer first-hand, I absolutely loved being a part of Relay For Life and was very passionate about what the American Cancer Society stood for.

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Once I graduated college, I moved from my small town to Kansas City, a booming metro area. I made the move just a few short months after wrapping up our annual Relay For Life event and I found myself missing that involvement. Relay For Life was an amazing experience, but it was only something I focused on for a handful of months out of the year. I wondered if there were other volunteer opportunities with ACS that would allow me to be more involved throughout the non-Relay months of the year. I happened to be driving through downtown Kansas City one day when I saw the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge building and thought to myself "I wonder what that is".

Later that night, I looked at cancer.org to find out about Hope Lodge Kansas City and learned about the amazing value Hope Lodge provides to cancer patients 365 days a year. And very quickly, I was sold! I have been volunteering with Hope Lodge KC for the last two years and have loved every minute of it!

Let me share some background on American Cancer Society Hope Lodges.

Hope Lodges are ACS-funded facilities that provide free lodging for cancer patients and their caregivers who have to travel a long distance for treatment. In addition to providing free housing, they cultivate an atmosphere of support and empathy for patients and their families. Being around so many others who are going through a similar journey helps the residents feel encouragement and, ultimately, hope.

There are over 30 Hope Lodges throughout the US with an average of 44,000 patients and caregivers accommodated each year. That adds up to be about $36 million saved for those cancer patients and caregivers! But as with any sizable non-profit initiatives, it takes a village! It takes a lot of time, money, and work to keep these facilities up and running. There are many ways that individuals can assist a Hope Lodge, whether that's through volunteering, fundraising, or donations.

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If you prefer to fundraise, any Hope Lodge will gladly accept monetary gifts. Fundraising can be done outside of the facility, such as at work or in your friend circles and then you can give the money raised to Hope Lodge. However, I've also seen individuals who have held fundraising events inside the facility as well. At the Hope Lodge I volunteer at, someone hosted a bake sale in the actual building and invited his friends and family to come buy goods and take a tour of Hope Lodge while they were there! Hosting a fundraising event in the building is a great way for your friends and families to see, first-hand, what Hope Lodge is and what their donations support.

Aside from monetary donations, Hope Lodges also accept donated items as well. Contact your nearest Hope Lodge location to see what they are in particular need of. For example, the location I volunteer at is always in needs of paper goods like paper towels and toilet paper. Another example is bingo prizes, such as t-shirts, trinkets, and gift cards because volunteers at our Hope Lodge commonly host bingo nights with the guests. But this may differ from location to location, so check with your particular location to see what items are needed at your nearest Hope Lodge.

When it comes to volunteering, there are countless ways that you can volunteer at Hope Lodge. Helping with housework, cooking meals for guests, or hosting activities are just a few. In my two years volunteering, I have led a variety of activities, such as preparing dinners for guests, hosting root beer float nights, bingo games, yoga sessions, movie nights, and crafts activities. What I especially love about volunteering with Hope Lodge is that it gives you a first-hand glimpse into the cancer journeys of the guests and the powerful support system and hope that is cultivated there. And despite how tough and challenging a battle with cancer is, the guests always amaze me with their gratitude and thankfulness towards my volunteer work.

 

One memory that I hold particularly close to my heart is when I made and served a meal and a guest told me, "This is the best meal I've had in six months!" It meant so much to me to know that the meal I had prepared could bring a little bit of light and happiness in an otherwise dark and trying time in their life.

Aside from the humbling gratitude of the guests and the moving experiences I have encountered while volunteering, another meaningful aspect has been receiving an "Exceptional Volunteerism" award for the last two years because of my dedication to volunteering with Hope Lodge.

This volunteer work has hands down been one of the most impactful experiences of my life, as well as one that I am most proud of. Since moving to Kansas City, I've also been able to be involved in other ACS initiatives as well, such as Road to Recovery, the Cancer Action Network, and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. But there's something about Hope Lodge that resonates for me more than my other ACS experiences. It has provided me with first-hand experiences that just can't be matched.

Each night that I volunteer with Hope Lodge, I leave so much more humbled than when I entered. And each night, I also recount memories of my mother's journey with cancer and become more thankful that her battle was successful and that she is now six years cancer free.

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So, if you're like me when I graduated college and you find yourself at a milestone in your life where you maybe have more time on your hands, or perhaps you are looking for more ways to get involved in ACS during the non-Relay months, I strongly encourage you to look into Hope Lodge.

I can attest that it will provide you some exceptionally moving experiences! But I should warn you that it may be emotionally difficult, just like Relay for Life or any other ACS event can be. But in your time at Hope Lodge, you will meet and learn about inspirational people and consequently will learn even more about yourself as well. And when you participate in future American Cancer Society fundraising events, like Relay For Life, those memories from Hope Lodge will remind you just why what you're doing is so important.

If you'd like to get involved with Hope Lodge either as a volunteer or through fundraising and donation efforts, click here (https://www.cancer.org/treatment/support-programs-and-services/patient-lodging/hope-lodge.html) to find the location nearest to you.

Written with love and hope,

Bree Walter

Caring For The Caregiver: Make Sure You're Okay Too

Caring for someone with cancer can be a monumental task. Many times, caregivers devote all of their time and energy to caring for their patient and forget about taking care of themselves. This can be very detrimental to the caregiver’s health, both physically and mentally. Check out our list of things to keep in mind as a caregiver!

Things for caregivers to consider...

  • Join a support group There are groups for just caregivers, for caregivers and the patient together, for caregivers after losing their loved one, and more.

  • Keep your friends close To the best extent possible, try to stay in touch with current supportive friends. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to win their battle with cancer, and without the support of friends and family, losing a loved one can be incredibly devastating and isolating. It is much easier to grieve and make it through such an experience when you have friends and family to help you through the experience.

  • Set reasonable personal goals! Maybe you can’t stick to your normal exercise routine, but try to do at least half an hour a few days a week, for example. Also try to set aside a few minutes each day to relax, where you can lay down or go for a walk. Don’t forget about your own mental and physical health as you help to care for someone else!

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and accepting it when others offer! Many times people have a tough time asking for help when they get overwhelmed. Don’t hesitate to lean on others when you need to!

  • Remember, it’s okay to be stressed. It’s not okay to feel overwhelmed this is when you need to take a step back and focus on caring for the caregiver! Ask for others to help you cover some of your tasks so you can rest up physically, mentally and emotionally.

  • If you have to take leave from your employment, be sure to know your rights. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 requires that businesses with 50 or more employees provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care of a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition, while also continuing their medical benefits as if the employee had not taken a leave. For more information about the act, visit the Department of Labor website: https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/

For more information about a caregiver’s role, and resources to help caregivers take care of themselves as they care for a patient, check out the links below.

http://campus.relayforlife.org/campus-blog/2016/9/11/campus-faqs-caregiver
https://www.cancer.gov/resources-for/caregivers
https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/caregiver-support
https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/survivorship/caregivers/

Blog by Alex Pfadenhauer & Colleen Eccles of the North Region Campus Leadership Team

 

Campus FAQ's: Virtual Survivor Programs

Do you Relay for a Survivor who cannot make it to your event because of health, distance, or other constraints? Did you know they can still participate in your event as a Virtual Survivor? Download the Virtual Survivor Sheet to share with your event!

What is a Virtual Survivor?

A Virtual Survivor is a person that has been diagnosed with cancer but cannot physically attend a Relay For Life event  due to distance, time, illness, or any other constraint. These are the people in our lives that we CELEBRATE at Relay For Life, whether or not they can be with us at the event.

How does it work? 

If you have a loved one who is unable to join us at the Relay For Life Opening Ceremony, you can still pay tribute to them by walking in their place.  By creating an 8.5x11 poster, you can honor them throughout the night.  In addition to carrying this poster, you can honor them by decorating the back of your event t-shirt.

Why Should I Participate?

Relay is all about Celebrating Survivorship.  We all Relay for someone special and the Virtual Survivor program allows you to CELEBRATE the life of your loved one when they can’t be with you at Relay.  Have your Survivor register at www.RelayForLife.org/ (your event name) as a Survivor.

If your Survivor does not have an email address but would like to sign up for an event, there is an easy process to get them registered, without having scan a form. They can call the National Cancer Information Center (NCIC) at 1-800-227-2345 option 2 and tell the Income Support Specialist (ISS) that they would like to register as a survivor for an event, but that they don’t have an email to use or wish to share. A NCIC representative will ask them a few questions to understand the level at which they’d like to participant and register them. They will also explain how to update their registration if they want to actively fundraise online or update their personal fundraising page, which will require an email.

CAC Best Practices: Survivor and Caregiver Engagement

Survivor and Caregiver Engagement on Campuses

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Colleges Against Cancer is one of the largest and most active clubs at Albany College of Pharmacy and Health sciences thanks to the 100+ students, faculty and staff who are dedicated to the success of our chapter. With the overwhelming support we receive each year we have been able to develop passive and active programs that meet the goals of all four pillars of the American Cancer Society. Our Colleges Against Cancer chapter was awarded National Survivor and Caregiver Engagement Chapter of the Year for 2015 - 2016.
 
Our Survivorship committee created opportunities to work closely with Albany Medical Center and the local American Cancer Society Hope Club to support people battling cancer. The students put together Chemo Care Packages which contained fuzzy socks, hand sanitizers, tissues, mints and chapstick that were then donated to patients receiving chemotherapy at the hospital. To lift spirits we participated in a comedy night at the Hope Club, in which our students were able to spend time with survivors and their families and try to laugh away some of the stresses that these people face on a daily basis.  A new program we participated in last year that was well received was working in the garden at the Hope Club. Our students cleaned out the garden, planted new flowers and decorated the area to turn the space into a relaxing oasis that patients and families could use for reflection.
 
One of our most rewarding experiences was visiting the children’s oncology unit at the Albany Medical Center and playing games, doing crafts and talking with them. Our students dressed up as the kids’ favorite superheroes and were able to leave them with Love Your Melon hats that were donated. Being with children who are battling this ugly disease and seeing them still have joy and light in them is continued inspiration for us to do what we do as College’s Against Cancer, and we hope to continue our partnership with Hope Club and AMC.
 
Our largest events are Making Strides against Breast Cancer and, of course, Relay For Life.  At both of these events we incorporate the other pillars into the fundraisers and programming we do to raise awareness, support and money for ACS.
 
For Making Strides, we decorated our Student Center Atrium in pink prior to the walk and our “Think Pink Party”.  During the Think Pink Party, people were able to get pink manicures, pink hair extensions, play games, win raffles and enjoy pink treats from our bake sale.  Through these various events and fundraisers, we were able to raise $3,790 and had 102 participants for the walk!

Relay For Life is one of the largest events on our campus and last year’s theme was “Saving the World One Cure at a Time”.  Through our kick off and fundraising events we incorporated the theme through different drinks (Hulk Juice and Flash Drink), snacks (Fantastic Four Veggies and Dip, Cheese and Pretzel Hammers and Chocolate Covered Batman Pineapple) and activities.  The night of Relay we dedicate an entire room to the survivors who attend and provide free back massages.  We also create gift baskets for each of them to take home which last year included a coffee mug, hot chocolate, prayer rocks, a custom-made adult coloring book and heating packs made by our schools Craft Club.  At Relay our Education chair worked with our ACS Rep to have a large inflatable colon that we stationed over the Relay track.  All walkers had to pass through the colon and could stop and see the different stages of polyps and cancer for people to look at and touch.  Our Advocacy Chair was able to team up with a local hair salon and bring in hair stylist to volunteer their time to shave the heads of students who were “going bald through cancer”. Eighteen students and faculty either shave their heads or donated 8 inches of hair to Pantene for their program that creates wigs for cancer patients.  The going bald for cancer event raised over $400! In total for our Relay Event we were able to raise $43,965 with 37 teams and 496 participants.  Our College’s Against Cancer Chapter was so excited about the year we had last year.  Each of our 4 Pillars are well are their way to planning events that bring awareness to Cancer Education, Advocacy, Survivorship and Relay For Life and we can’t wait to see what this year brings!  

Guest Blog by Breanne Spear and Nicole Kelly of Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

Year Round Survivor and Caregiver Engagement

Is your campus looking for ways to engage your Survivors and Caregivers? Check out the new Survivor & Caregiver Year-Round Engagement guide for ideas. We will be releasing the ideas each month as a reminder, but also wanted you to have all of the ideas to help facilitate your plans the rest of the year. Let us know what activities you are planning so we can recognize all of the great ways campuses are engaging their Survivors and Caregivers!