CLINE: Hope springs eternal in a wonderful lodge

It sits just off Clairmont Road in Decatur, right around the corner from the entrance to Emory University. But despite its location near such a busy road, the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge is easy to miss.

Until a recent visit, I never knew the lodge -- a place for cancer patients and their caregivers to stay for free while undergoing treatment -- was there. This despite repeated trips past it en route to Emory University Hospital to visit my father during his battle with cancer.

But a field trip with the American Cancer Society's Gwinnett Leadership Council last week introduced me and several others to a place that has served as a sort of life preserver for families drowning in the complications and costs that come with fighting cancer.

It is a beautiful facility, one of 29 in the country, and is celebrating the addition of a new wing two weeks ago. The lodge, which started housing patients in 1998, added 18 rooms, bringing the total to 52 for the facility.

It provides private rooms for patients and their caregivers and also has other amenities, including a library and computer room, a TV room, a game room and a kitchen where guests can store and cook their own food. Food is not provided by the lodge, but meals are often brought in by civic and religious groups that visit.

Shuttles are also available to take patients to their treatments at various hospitals in the area. Those same shuttles are occasionally used to transport guests to activities, like a movie or a Braves game. In short, the lodge is designed to be a home away from home for patients who have an average stay of six to eight weeks.

"We've had many people leave here and say: 'I don't know what I would have done without this place,'" said Permecia Winston, a Hope Lodge assistant manager who lives on the property. "I've had people say: 'You guys are a lifesaver.'

"And we've had a lot of people say they never knew this place existed."

The Hope Lodge exists thanks to major donors, and it's also a good example of Relay for Life funds in action. The American Cancer Society also provides in-house resource people to help answer questions and guide patients through the difficult time.

Rooms are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis and the only requirements are each patient must have a caregiver and patients must be 18 or older and live more than 40 miles from where they are receiving treatment. Other than that it, is no-strings-attached lodging, which can be a huge benefit for people whose budgets have already been stretched to the max by medical bills.

Mamie Watson of Jefferson wrote on the exit form she submitted when leaving the Hope Lodge: "I was not sure about staying at the Hope Lodge ... but on the second day I met some of the other residents that had been (there) for a while. All (of them) were nice and helpful with getting me acquainted with things.

"Although we are all going through a difficult time right now, I heard no one complaining. The Hope Lodge allowed me to stay near the hospital without paying for hotel expenses. It allowed me to just focus on getting well."

For anyone who has gone through or watched a loved one go through cancer treatment, those words are as priceless as the help the Hope Lodge provides.

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.