No matter where we are on life's journey we need the support of others. Often, the most effective support comes from people who share experiences similar to ours. That sense of a shared journey is the basis of support forums on the Internet as well as in-person groups.

The American Cancer Society's Hope Lodges are leveraging this kind of support in a profound way; by offering a place to stay for people undergoing cancer treatment and their caregivers that's free of charge.

The Richard M. Schulze Family American Cancer Society Hope Lodge in the Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN area is one such lodge.

Not only is cancer a life-threatening condition with difficult treatments to endure, it is also financially expensive. The Hope Lodge in the Twin Cities provides over 40 private guest rooms at no cost to cancer patients who reside at least 40 miles from the Hope Lodge and who are undergoing active cancer treatment. A caregiver is required to accompany the person undergoing treatment and he or she can also stay at Hope Lodge free of charge.

Since Hope Lodge is a national program of the American Cancer Society, all of the 31 Hope Lodges follow a standard set of guidelines. Like other Hope Lodges, the Twin Cities lodge focuses of fostering a home-like environment. It's equipped with a community dining room, kitchen, family room, library and laundry facilities. The Lodge also offers guests a wide variety of cancer programs and services that provide information, resources and support to ease the journeys of families affected by cancer.

Mary Oys Wiles, Manager of the Richard M. Schulze Family Hope Lodge, provided answers to my questions about these unique, cancer-focused communities. I asked Mary if people were selected for a certain Hope Lodge by area. She told me that they have people not only from their home state of Minnesota, but from across the country. She also informed me that the average stay at their Hope Lodge is around 19 days, though, of course, that can vary.

As a family caregiver, I immediately thought of how comforting to other caregivers this arrangement could be. As we know, it's not just the person with a disease who needs support. The caregiver needs support, as well.

While the caregivers are required to accompany the person with cancer so that he or she can be a care provider, the fact that other caregivers are doing the same for their loved ones who are ill would likely bring to caregivers the same sense of camaraderie that the person with cancer feels with the other patients at Hope Lodges.

Mary struck me as someone dedicated to her work so I asked her what the most rewarding part of her job would be. "I have been blessed with an opportunity to meet so many wonderful guests during a difficult time of their lives," she said. "Hope Lodge is truly a home away from home. We have a saying at our front desk: Enter as guests, leave as friends."

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Message from a guest at Hope Lodge:

Sue Johnson stayed at the Richard M. Schulze Family Hope Lodge while she underwent cancer treatment. Her testimonial, inscribed on the Hope Wall, explains what it means to have such support during this difficult time:

"To the many competent staff members of the Hope Lodge facility and the employees behind the scene, I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation. I knew I was at the right location, Hope Lodge, when upon arrival I was greeted by a staff that was warm and companionate. My emotions were mixed and I was very apprehensive as to what my future held; when they presented me with the care package filled with so many heartwarming items my emotional state soared.

"Their kindness and encouragement inspired me and my caregivers with strength, faith and hope. I also appreciated the many volunteer organizations that provided excellent home cooked meals and the weekly activities that were conducted. I would recommend the Hope Lodge facility and staff to anyone in similar circumstances; for without these wonderful people, I don't know what I would have done. They are truly an inspiration to all."

To me, the concept of the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodges is based on people helping people. The hope and support that one person undergoing cancer treatment can give to another is immense.

At an American Cancer Society Hope Lodge, no one is suffering alone in a crowd since everyone there understands his or her disease.

The same would be true for the caregivers who accompany the person with the disease. Knowing that we aren't alone in our physical and /or emotional pain is what gets many of us through difficult times. This is the blessing of all the Hope Lodges.