OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — When Sabra Huntsberger's daughter, Karli Ewing, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2002 they lived in Guymon. Treatment meant driving four hours to Oklahoma City, where they often had to stay two weeks at a time.
"Luckily, we had family (in the area)," Huntsberger said. While they had a place to stay, many other families traveling long distances for treatment did not.
"I met so many other people who would drive for hours to get chemo and then drive home," she told The Oklahoman.
Soon, cancer patients who come to Oklahoma City for treatment will have a place to stay at no cost.
Construction of Hope Lodge Oklahoma is scheduled to begin next year. It will be one of more than 30 Hope Lodge facilities the American Cancer Society operates nationwide.
Each Hope Lodge offers cancer patients and their caregivers a free, homey place to stay while undergoing treatment that may take weeks or months. The idea is to eliminate the worry about where to stay or how to pay for it so patients can focus on getting better.
"Oklahoma, we need one so bad. I'm just so excited for this," said Huntsberger, who went through the same routine again when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. "I think this is greatest gift God could give anybody."
Hope Lodge will surround families who are battling cancer with people who understand what they are going through and allow them to bond, Huntsberger said, noting patients and caregivers often struggle with lost income, high fuel costs and inability to pay for lodging.
"It's the fact they don't have to worry about anything except battling for their lives," she said.
The vision for Hope Lodge Oklahoma began during the planning phase for the Stephenson Cancer Center at OU Medicine, said Gene Rainbolt, co-chair of the Hope Lodge fundraising campaign.
Rainbolt said the goal is to raise $16.5 million, which will build the facility and pay for the first three years of operation. After that, the American Cancer Society will fund the operation. To date, $12.1 million has been raised.
The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center is leasing the land to the ACS for 60 years at $1 per year. While Hope Lodge will be about a block from the Stephenson Cancer Center, it will be available to cancer patients being treated anywhere in the metro area.
"Unfortunately, cancer is an all-too-familiar word in our vocabulary," said Scott Meacham, campaign co-chair. "Many of us have been personally touched by the disease, while others have witnessed how it affects our loved ones, friends or our co-workers."
One in two men and one in three women in Oklahoma will develop cancer.
"For many cancer patients with limited means, the new Hope Lodge facility will be the only way they can access the lifesaving treatment they need," Meacham said.
Rainbolt and his wife, Jeannine, made many trips to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston during her five-year battle with lung cancer, sometimes staying for months at a time.
Many patients can't afford to do that, which made Rainbolt "determined to help see a world-class cancer center here so Oklahomans would have access."
The Stephenson Cancer Center opened in 2011 and was named a National Cancer Institute designated cancer center last year. Patients come from across Oklahoma and beyond to take part clinical trials for all types and stages of cancer.
Hope Lodge will provide a home away from home for many of them.
"We are looking at finally doing the groundbreaking in 2020," said Brian Brookey, campaign director with the American Cancer Society.
Plans call for 34 guest rooms, each with a private bath and fully equipped kitchen. The lodge will include an outdoor healing garden, common guest lounges, a dining room, a laundry room stocked with supplies and a resource library with computer area. Guests will have access to transportation to area treatment centers.
Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com
An AP Member Exchange shared by The Oklahoman.