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

Why I Relay: Alexis' Story

As a seventeen-year-old, the way you look, what you wear, how you are presenting yourself and who your friends are, is an essential part of your teenager years. For me, having a cosmetic surgery done to remove a wart from behind my left ear on my head was essential to me. The way classmates looked at me and teased me for having such an ugly mark on the back of my head, resulted in getting it removed in August 2008. Two weeks later, I went back to get a larger part removed.

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After each of the incisions, I went back to school the next day with a smile on my face, a bandage on my head, pretending nothing serious happened, and not wanting to miss any more school of my Freshman year of college in Germany. And while the results came back negative, I didn’t get a call from the doctor until December. That time, the doctor called my mom and I into his office. I remember sitting down and being told that they had looked at my case again, did another biopsy, and found something cancerous.

Sent from one doctor to another, and from one test to another, soon, I had my first Oncology appointment, and this was when I first heard the words “You have cancer.” And so began my journey….. There was instant regret - for things left undone, Fear - that I would never get to do those things, The instant itemizing of 'life's most important treasures.' When I went home, I went into my room. I closed the door and crawled under my blankets, not knowing what to do. I stared at the walls, for hours, and was wondering how my friends and the rest of the family would take it. Was I really gonna die at 17? I hadn’t even started my life. 

Weeks passed - filled with tests, checkups, and appointments. My life was starting to have a routine between home, school, and hospital. I learned I was 'stage 4' cancer and ‘a malignant melanoma’- the good news was, the cancer had not spread to other parts of my body. I didn’t exactly understand the situation I was in, but all I knew was that I had cancer. 

Surprisingly, the moment I heard my doctor utter the words “cancer” I had this immense amount of energy come over me. Like I was immediately ready to beat the absolute crap out of this. Sure I was terrified, actually horrified, but not about losing to it, more so at knowing how much work I was about to have to do, and the fears that everyone around me was about to undergo.

And believe me…I tried everything to hide cancer’s marks on my body, from wearing big hoodies to cover up my full head bandages, to beanies and new hairstyles to cover up my bald spots. I was embarrassed and scared to be asked any questions if anybody would notice what was wrong with me. All in all, I was embarrassed to share my story. When I got my diagnosed, I spent the first few weeks trying to envision how my life would change. I think that my biggest concerns at 17 were, how I am going to fit in at school, how the chemo would change me, and how I would be accepted. 

The word cancer has been in my life for 9 years now. After multiple scans, surgeries of removing affected skin areas and enlarged lymph nodes, too many biopsies, and without chemo therapy, I can now say I AM CANCER FREE. May 4, 2009, marks the day when the doctor told me everything was clear. My plans to spend that summer in California were on thin ice as my doctors were scared of all the sun exposure. With lots fighting and stubbornness, I made it happen. One year later, I even got the approval to make my long dream come true and moved to California to finish my education.  

It wasn’t until 2011 when I was first introduced to the American Cancer Society and Relay For Life. That’s when my new life really got started. Just 9 month after I had moved to the US, I jumped into an unknown adventure. At first, I didn’t join as a survivor; I joined as a supporter who wanted to help. I founded the Colleges Against Cancer chapter at the Riverside Community College, CA, preceded my first year as the survivor chair, and moved up to hold the event lead position for the next two years. I then transferred to Chapman Universeity, where I led the Relay For Life of Chapman University and the Colleges Against Cancer Chapter with all my heart. I met other passionate college students who were ready to put an end to this disease. Survivors, caregivers, and friends...all of them my age...all of them understanding, kind, and driven to make an impact.

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During my time with Relay and the American Cancer Society, I got more comfortable sharing my story with cancer and became a California Hero of Hope, traveling around the state to share my story and spread hope to keep fighting. Never in my life had I felt so passionate to work with an organization that gives so much. My dedication is shown through the local & divisional volunteer positions. I joined the CA Campus Leadership Team and the Western Campus Leadership Team as the Relay For Life Co-Chair while still being in college. I am currently serving as the lead of the Desert Coastal area, helping the Western Region and National Voice of Hope teams with social media, and mentoring our students at Chapman University & representing the United States as a Global Hero of Hope! With my passion and dedication to the cause, I am always on the lookout to get more people involved to help her celebrate more birthdays.

I graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design, have been working in the Creative field since, and most importantly, I still support the students at Chapman, raise money and awareness for Relay. Life taught me how important it is to give hope, encourage others and fight back!

Because of Relay, I now celebrate my cancer journey, knowing that I’m not alone, and have so much hope for the future. I am 26 years old and I am a skin cancer survivor. But more than that, I am a passionate Relay For Life volunteer, who will be forever grateful for the opportunity to become a Relay For Life leader as a college student. But my passion for the fight against cancer has made me want to Relay For LIFE and I’m excited to continue volunteering as a young professional, so I can continue to paint my world purple.