Hope - it's a four-letter word that holds such promise. For 32-year-old Arkansas native Greg Jenkins, that promise was fulfilled during an eightweek stay in Boston for innovative radiation therapy.
Jenkins was diagnosed with a brain tumor last fall. He began noticing symptoms, including numbness and high sensitivity to cold, in August. Doctors initially suspected multiple sclerosis and referred him to a neurologist. MRI results revealed a tumor at the base of his skull, compressing his brain stem.
On Sept. 24, Jenkins underwent a craniotomy, a nine-hour surgical procedure. The surgical team successfully removed 100 percent of the tumor, which was subsequently diagnosed as malignant and one that would return without radiation treatment. Jenkins was then referred to Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) for high-precision radiation treatment provided by proton therapy. The MGH Proton Beam Unit was founded in 1962 and has the most experience with proton beam radiation therapy of any center in the U.S. This methodology is different in that the physician can shape the beam to match the shape of the tumor and precisely deliver the radiation to the targeted area, preventing damage to surrounding tissues and critical structures such as the brain and spinal cord.
"Based on where the tumor was located, precision is so important," said Jenkins. "It's a very sensitive area and radiation to the healthy tissue could have been catastrophic. I felt comfortable here. There aren't many places in the U.S. that offer this procedure - five, I think - and MGH has the longest-running program."
During his eight weeks of treatment, Jenkins found a new home at the AstraZeneca Hope Lodge Center in Boston. Hope Lodges are designed to serve as a home away from home, made available at no cost to patients undergoing active outpatient treatment for cancer. Each Hope Lodge offers transportation to treatment and the on-site resources of the American Cancer Society, allowing cancer patients to focus on whats most important - recovery.
Arelief from the burden of hotel and transportation bills was important to Jenkins, a lifelong resident of Arkansas who works for an independent insurance agency. He and his wife, Amy, a teacher, have a six-year-old son and a baby daughter on the way.
"I can't imagine a better program than this," said Jenkins. "Staying somewhere else for two months, I would have been looking at $6,000-7,000 out of my pocket. It truly would have been a financial hardship. Plus, in a hotel, you're trapped in your room all day by yourself. Here, there was a constant stream of people and I developed several friends just in a short time. It allowed me to maintain a high quality of life."
"This new facility is the realization of a dream," said Don Gudaitis, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Societys New England Division. "Facing cancer is one of life's greatest challenges, but finding a place to stay in Boston during treatment shouldn't be."
The American Cancer Society's New England Division opened the AstraZeneca Hope Lodge in November. The 50,000-square-foot facility is the third Hope Lodge location in New England and one of 27 in the U.S. It offers 40 private guest suites and a supportive atmosphere for cancer patients and their families. The common areas include a library, courtyards and a meal preparation and dining area that encourage patients and caregivers to discuss their experiences, share stories, eat meals and draw strength from each other.
"During the planning phases our staff and volunteers went to great lengths to ensure the Lodge had a residential, non-institutional feel," said Bryan Harter, director of the AstraZeneca Hope Lodge Center in Boston.
"This is reflected in the large open spaces in the building. Connecting with others going through similar experiences can be so helpful for people living with cancer."
"Being away from home in such a large city, everyone thought Id be overwhelmed," said Jenkins, who returned home on Feb. 24 to resume his normal life. "Every single one of them (who visited me) left feeling 10 times better about my being here. They could see I wasn't alone."
The campaign to open a Hope Lodge in Boston began four years ago. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute invested $2.5 million in the project, followed by gifts of $2 million each from MGH and Brigham & Womens Hospital. The combined investments of the three hospitals enabled the American Cancer Society to purchase the site of the former Vincent Memorial Hospital, at 125 South Huntington Ave. In 2006, the Society received a $7 million naming gift from AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, enabling the building project to move forward. AstraZeneca, which has a history of more than 30 years of discovering and developing some of the worlds leading oncology products, has a major cancer and infection research facility in Waltham, and operations in Westborough.
"At AstraZeneca, patients are always at the forefront of our thinking," said Dr. Jeff Hanke, vice president of cancer research. Not only do we continually work to develop some of the world's most effective medicines, but our commitment goes beyond the medications we provide, to finding ways to actively support the communities where our employees live and work. Our collaboration with the American Cancer Society to build AstraZeneca Hope Lodges, here in Boston and in Philadelphia, is something we are particularly proud of, because we know how important it is to find care, education and support when patients are faced with the diagnosis of cancer."
To date, more than $26 million has been raised by the volunteer Boston Regional Campaign Cabinet, co-chaired by Dr. David S. Rosenthal and Dr. Burt Adelman. Another $500,000 is needed to complete the project.
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