Story by Mallory Hill and photo by Brit Huckabay
“There’s no place like home.” It’s a phrase commonly used in film, music, books, and everyday conversation. It’s simply a statement of comfort. For so many facing a battle with cancer, the comforts of home aren’t always an option, and the phrase “home away from home” comes into play. Perhaps it’s a statement of something greater than of comfort – it’s a statement of hope. True to its name, the American Cancer Society Joe Lee Griffin Hope Lodge provides hope for those who need it most.
It was during the treatment process of family patriarch Ernest that the Statham family witnessed firsthand the need for lodging assistance in the area. Bartley, his wife of 59 years, their five children, 13 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, turned the experience of losing Ernest after a nine-month battle with ampullary cancer into a gift of hope for patients faced with the barrier of distance.
“Sadly, during the course of treatment, my mom and dad began to notice that there were other patients undergoing treatment that were not as fortunate,” says Bryan, the youngest of Ernest and Bartley’s children. “Many were coming for treatment alone, and some even appeared to be sleeping in their cars at night with no place to stay. Par for the course, my dad seemed to be more concerned with what was going on with those around him than he was concerned with the particulars of his situation.”
Very often the best cancer care may only be available many miles from home. The costs of traveling to and from treatment may create insurmountable physical, emotional, and financial burdens during what is already a challenging time. The American Cancer Society has seen patients interrupt their treatment, forego the most effective cancer care, or give up completely because they cannot afford the expenses of travel and lodging. The Hope Lodge, located at 1104 Ireland Way, provides lodging free of charge to cancer patients and their families during their course of treatment, not only reducing the financial burden, but also providing a much-needed supportive environment.
“I spent a lot of hours in the hospital at UAB, whether it was in waiting rooms, infusion rooms, or even the parking deck,” says Bartley. “I met a lot of cancer patients and their families. There were people who drove over 100 miles, and some of them would make that drive twice a day. They simply couldn’t afford to stay in a hotel overnight. I couldn’t imagine having to fight cancer and deal with those types of barriers at the same time.”
It wasn’t until Bryan’s wife, Andrea, volunteered for a local American Cancer Society fundraiser that they heard of Hope Lodge.
“We firmly believe things happen for a reason,” said Bryan. “A few months after my father’s passing, we were invited to the Hope Gala with friends. It was great to be introduced to the Hope Lodge and its mission, and we knew immediately that it would be a great way my mother and our family could honor our father.”
Support for the Hope Lodge comes in many forms, from donating supplies and completing service projects to serving meals and everything in between.
“We have furnished supplies for the guests of Hope Lodge, including cleaning supplies and personal items,” says Bartley. “We tried to think of the types of things that people always need when staying away from home. Each one of our children and our grandchildren were involved in this.”
In addition to providing supplies, the Statham family has sponsored a room at Hope Lodge, in loving memory of Ernest, through the American Cancer Society’s Project 33 program. Local families, businesses, church groups and many others graciously donate funds to sponsor each of the Hope Lodge’s 33 rooms. Bryan’s company, RxBenefits, Inc., is also a sponsor. In addition to financial support, other ways sponsors can get more involved and help make guests even more comfortable during their stay include hanging a seasonal wreath or decorative item on the door, leaving a guest book in the room, leaving cards or letters of encouragement for the guests, serving a meal at the facility, and much more.
“Our father’s favorite annual event was always Thanksgiving,” says Bryan. “We have a very large family gathering, and Mom cooks for everyone. The communion of sharing a meal has produced amazing memories over the years, so in memory of Dad, we chose to provide a Thanksgiving meal to the Hope Lodge.”
For Bartley, simply knowing that patients and caregivers get a glimpse of the Statham family plaque each time they enter and leave their room has so much meaning.
“It means more than you could possibly imagine,” she says. “We all went over there and stood in front of that door and had a picture made. Just to see his name there and to know how proud he’d be of that and how proud he is of us, means so much.”
Inspiring others in this community to support the Hope Lodge is important to the Statham family, especially considering the benefit locals have if faced with a cancer diagnosis.
“The people with the most significant issues are those who don’t live here,” says Bartley. “Hope Lodge is their hope, and our community can help support so many others from outside communities.”
“It’s unfortunate that it took our father’s diagnosis to introduce us to the Hope Lodge,” adds Bryan. “This terrible disease does not discriminate. It impacts families far and wide. As residents of Birmingham, we are fortunate to have amazing treatment options in our backyard. Not everyone has that luxury. As residents of this community, we all need to step back and look at the amazing facility, its mission, and the people it serves. Find a way to help. Our biggest regret is not getting involved earlier.”
In 2018, Joe Lee Griffin Hope Lodge provided a total of 18,062 nights of free lodging. Patients must be referred by a physician and permanently reside 40 miles or more away from or have at least a one-hour commute to their treatment facility. To learn more about the American Cancer Society Joe Lee Griffin Hope Lodge, please visit www.cancer.org/hopelodgebirmingham. To get involved through Project 33, please contact Maryhelen Kirkpatrick at email@example.com.