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New hope for cancer patients

An important step in USF’s quest to become a leading center for cancer research and treatment took place Friday evening as the American Cancer Society cut the ribbon on its new Tampa Hope Lodge.
The $9 million lodge, which is located next to the H. Lee Moffitt Center, is the 18th of its kind in the United States and the third in Florida. Its purpose is to provide free living space and a communal environment for patients who must travel to Tampa for cancer treatment.
Susan Rabel, who will serve as director for the lodge when it begins accepting patients on June 3, said the construction of such lodges is important in the fight against cancer.
“You’ve heard over and over that the diagnosis of cancer has a significant financial and emotional burden,” Rabel said. “We hope to relieve the financial burden by making the facility free and to relieve the emotional burden by providing a supportive environment that’s available at the Hope Lodge for all cancer patients.”
Rabel said the lodge will be operated mostly by volunteers. She said providing patients with free living space near the treatment centers is important in their recovery.
“Every year over 70,000 patients travel from outside of Hillsborough County to the Tampa Bay area for cancer treatment. Right now, they pay. They stay in either a hotel or an apartment. And they’ll be isolated,” she said. “This will help with that isolation. They will form bonds they wouldn’t if they were outside.”
The 47,000-square-foot Hope Lodge will provide 40 private suites for patients and six kitchens for food preparation. There is also a reading room, game room and sitting room, complete with a pool table and high-definition television.
In addition, the Tampa Hope Lodge will be the first such lodge to provide an entire floor for the special needs of patients recovering from bone-marrow replacement surgery.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, former cancer patient and Gainsville Hope Lodge resident Jack Maurer and his wife Joy gave an emotional description of the importance such lodges have on the recovery of cancer patients.
“I am a survivor,” Maurer said. “The way (Hope Lodge caregivers) encourage you to continue on with your way of life, and before you know it you’re helping others out, trying to encourage them. It was a great experience, one I’ll never forget. I’m sure there’ll be many of those right here.”
Mrs. Maurer described the emotional toll cancer takes on patients, not only because of the disease itself but because of financial burdens. She said the Hope Lodge alleviates those burdens and allows patients to concentrate on recovery.
“Not only do you think about everything that’s going on, but then you think about the expense, and it’s just horrible,” she said. “We found a Hope Lodge in Gainsville, and fortunately we went there.”
Mrs. Maurer said the communal atmosphere at Hope Lodge was key to her husband’s recovery.
“They were the most compassionate, wonderful and supportive group you could imagine any place. You have people from every walk of life, every color, every creed, and yet, they all have something in common: this dreaded disease cancer,” she said. “We have made lifelong friends. I cannot tell you how much we have appreciated the administration.”
In attendance at the ceremony were notable members of local and state government. Included in those were state Sen. Tom Lee and County Commissioner Pat Frank.
Just before participating in the ribbon-cutting, Frank spoke emotionally about the importance of the lodge and about her best friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I wish someone would have been there to reinforce her when her hair fell out,” Frank said. “I think this is going to be really great, and I thank each and every one of you for your leadership and your generosity, and for understanding the importance of what this means for so many people and their families.”
Construction of the building took about a year to complete. Much of the cost for the structure came from corporate donations. Among the donors was Tampa Electric. The company, headed by USF Board of Trustees member John Ramil, made a gift of $150,000.
Ramil said before the ceremony that the new facility will be a big help for cancer patients.
“Families have a lot to worry about. They don’t have to worry about where they’re going to stay, what they’re going to eat,” he said. “It takes a load off of them.”
In addition to its importance in fighting cancer, Ramil said the new lodge will help USF in becoming one of the nation’s premier cancer facilities.
“It’s going to help the university quite a bit,” he said. “When you look around and you see last year USF (spent) $186 million in research, 51st in the country, and we’re not even 50 years old yet. Things like this are just going to make us a better university.”

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