January 2012 didn’t start off the way Amy Love had envisioned it.
The 45-year-old Gillette, Wyo., woman was diagnosed with cervical cancer. The stress of the life-threatening illness was quickly compounded by all of the complementary issues associated with a debilitating illness, including money woes and a three-hour commute to Billings for treatment and lodging.
Unable to work, she relied heavily on a paltry disability check.
For the first three months of 2012, she moved to Billings, shelling out nearly $3,000 for lodging while receiving treatment at Billings Clinic.
As the financial stress continued to mount, she was thrown a lifeline courtesy of the American Cancer Society Patient Lodging Program, which started in 2007.
The program is a cooperative effort with participating hotels in the community to provide free or substantially reduced lodging for cancer patients and a caregiver traveling 50 miles or more to Billings for cancer treatment.
Hotels donate rooms when available Sunday through Thursday when cancer patients have a hard time paying for a hotel while traveling to Billings for scheduled cancer treatments at Billings Clinic Cancer Center or St. Vincent’s Frontier Cancer Center. Patients have traveled from all corners of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota to stay at one of the participating hotels.
“It’s a lifesaver,” said Love, who has used more than 20 nights and is still counting. “I’m pretty wiped out after treatment. I feel groggy and have this drunk sensation. This program is a huge stress reliever. It’s lifted a burden off me.”
Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31 this year, eight participating hotels in Billings have provided 1,012 rooms to 246 cancer patients. The total cost of the rooms donated, based on an average cost of $125 per night, is $126,500.
Shelli K. Mann, general manager of the Boothill Inn and Suites, said she and Jim Bennett, the owner, see donating rooms as “the right thing to do” in a community that serves as a medical hub for the region.
“These patients have enough to worry about without having the financial burden of paying for a hotel while they are receiving treatment,” Mann said. “Who among us hasn’t known someone who struggled through cancer and needed a little help?”
Occasionally, rooms may not be available because of seasonal demands or events taking place in Billings. Since January, more than 170 room requests have been denied to cancer patients. The American Cancer Society is working to reduce the number to zero by increasing the number of hotels that participate in the Patient Lodging Program, said Cindy McGinnis, quality of life manager of the American Cancer Society.
Cancer patients have enough concerns to deal with when going through a cancer diagnosis, McGinnis said. “They shouldn’t be worrying about where they are going to stay when traveling long distances for cancer treatment and how they will cover the cost of a hotel room. Because of the generous donations of hotels that have joined the lodging program, some cancer patients can stay in a clean and comfortable room to lessen some of that burden.”
Patients are referred to the program by medical staff, oncology social workers or an American Cancer Society Cancer Resource Center volunteer. All reservations must go through the American Cancer Society Patient Services Center.