CHELTENHAM, MONTGOMERY COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The Centers For Disease Control ranks Pennsylvania third in the nation for most people with cancer. The devastating disease leaves many fighting an expensive health battle. There’s a place in the Philadelphia area that’s helping these patients — including many from northeastern and central Pennsylvania — clear a costly hurdle to receive their care.
“When that lady told me I had cancer I was like, huh? What are we talking about?” The shocking diagnosis Richard Proctor of Middle Smithfield Township received is one that the Pennsylvania Department of Health projects will be given to more than 78,000 Pennsylvanians this year. The East Stroudsburg area man is battling blood cancer. So is Margaret Biegert of Susquehanna borough. “We have opted for a stem cell bone marrow transplant,” she said.
Besides sharing a similar diagnosis and surgery, Margaret and Richard both found themselves facing the same financial obstacle: how to cover lodging costs while receiving follow-up treatment at facilities in Philadelphia. Richard and his wife first tried a center city hotel for a week. “Almost $2,000 by the time we were done,” said Teresa Proctor.
But the Proctors discovered a solution called AstraZeneca Hope Lodge. “It’s been a Godsend for us,” said Mrs. Proctor. It’s been the same for Margaret. “I’ve never heard of Hope Lodge. I’ve never heard of a place like this and it’s just amazing.”
Nestled on the fringe of Philadelphia, the American Cancer Society facility allows cancer patients and their required caregivers to stay there for free — something it’s been doing since opening in 2009. AtraZeneca Hope Lodge Manager Byron Barksdale said, “We’ve saved patients and their families a little more than $14 million in lodging or hotel costs over that period of time.”
Each of the 37 rooms at Hope Lodge is designed to look the same right down to the artwork. And that’s no coincidence. The idea is to provide the same level of comfort as guests enjoyed in their prior stay.
1,200 guests stayed at this cost-free lodge in 2016. Many of them come from northeastern and central Pennsylvania including Luzerne (83), Lackawanna (65), Schuylkill (50), Monroe (23) and Northumberland (14) Counties.
While Pennsylvanians make up most of the guests, some live much farther away. Push pins on a map hung at AstraZeneca Hope Lodge represent just how far patients come for the opportunity the facility provides.
“If you see the map, there’s people from all around the world,” said Martin Miralda. He comes from Honduras. In 2014, he was visiting his sister who lives in the U-S when he suddenly fell ill to cancer. Martin was referred to AstraZeneca Hope Lodge. His parents have taken turns as his visiting caregivers.
For Martin’s family and so many others, the facility has proven to be a vital puzzle piece to begin recovery. “It’s enough to worry about battling cancer and to worry about on top of that all the transportation and a place to stay it wouldn’t be possible.” Having his mother with him also helps Martin ease another struggle. “Mostly, it will be the cooking part which I’m not that good at.”
Mayra Membreno uses one of the lodge’s kitchens to make meals like Sopa de Pollo, chicken soup, to make sure her son is maintaining his strength. “She could cook healthy food.” Sitting down with Martin and his Spanish speaking mother, Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller asked her what AstraZeneca Hope Lodge means to her family. Martin translated for her says, “It’s a big help. A little bit of peace in the middle of the storm.” Richard, speaking from his own experience, said “You feel at home. I mean this place is a great facility.”
Mr. Barksdale, who’s managed the lodge from the beginning, acknowledges the need for others like it. “It’s the old adage ‘It takes a village’ and I think that we are the village.” And give hope a home. “I’m very optimistic. I’ve got some great doctors and some good care,” said Margaret. “And Hope Lodge. Yep, thank goodness for this.”
The Philadelphia area Hope Lodge is one of 30 nationwide. Guests must meet several requirements to stay there. You can learn more by clicking here.