by Gene Redden – December 7, 2006
Island Voices, The Honolulu Advertiser Editorial
In September 2005, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I now understand the challenges of “surviving” cancer. After extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatment, I have been in remission for nine months. The experience was life-changing and has made me acutely aware of the challenges of “surviving” this terrible illness.
Cancer patients who live on Kaua‘i face a struggle against the disease as well as a search for adequate treatment and care.
My experiences are typical of many cancer patients of Kaua‘i. I received my chemotherapy on O‘ahu once a week. For radiation therapy, I had to return to be on O‘ahu for four weeks. My insurance did not cover the cost of airfare or accommodations. The American Cancer Society of Kaua‘i helped me with some of the airfare and also assisted me with low-cost hotel accommodations.
I came home to Kaua‘i after each chemo treatment, but during the radiation I had to stay there for the Monday-to-Friday treatments. Even if it had been available, I could not afford $50 a night for housing for more than a month. I was fortunate enough to have a loving family from a church in Wahiawa take me in during that time. Since my wife could not travel with me, I was left alone during some very difficult treatment.
The American Cancer Society has been a real source of assistance and encouragement from day one. But as great as its service has been, there remain some major gaps in services and care for patients who live on Kaua‘i.
The lack of a residential oncologist on Kaua‘i is one. The unavailability of equipment and staff to provide radiation treatment on the island is another. Housing must be addressed: Low rates are not available in hotels during peak tourist times, and hotel stays are cost prohibitive for some time. Also, there are a limited number of donated airline tickets available through the American Cancer Society.
Because of these problems, some cancer patients are forced to consider not pursuing treatment. Their cancer might win because of lack of money, housing or local treatment options.
I have to believe that, as a community, we would take care of these gaps in services. I hope that healthcare providers will do everything possible to hire an oncologist on Kaua‘i. I would love to see radiation treatment available on this island as well. The cost is tremendous and will require a major commitment by our hospital or a significant donation. Perhaps one or all of the local air carriers could help with donating airfare for patients.
But of all the needs, affordable housing is the one thing I am determined to resolve. The American Cancer Society in many parts of the country operates a housing program called “Hope Lodge.” Hope Lodges are more than just a place to stay – they provide a home-like nurturing environment so patients can get support from others going through the same experience. A cancer survivor’s recovery involves much more than medical treatments – it takes hope to heal. Hope Lodge offers the warmth and security of a home in a setting where the love and encouragement of others enlighten and inspire those struggling to survive.
But you cannot operate a program without housing. We need a facility in O‘ahu that could house and support cancer patients and families traveling throughout the Pacific.
I don’t know where the answer lies, or who could help us make this dream come true. So here is my plea: If you or someone you know might have the resources or contacts to move this dream from a need to a reality, please contact the Kaua‘i office of the American Cancer Society.
Gene Redden is a pastor who lived in Lihu‘e, Kaua‘i. He wrote this commentary for The Honolulu Advertiser and presented it to the American Cancer Society Hawai‘i Pacific Board of Directors in 2006.