Christmas is a time of joy but for many in the Bay of Plenty, it is also a time made harder by a cancer diagnosis. At the Cancer Society’s Lions Lodge in Hamilton, there is no stopping for Christmas or lazy summer days as guests arrive from around the Bay of Plenty for their life-saving treatment.
For Rotorua resident Gareth Gillies, staying at the Lodge while being treated for head and neck cancer helped him to cope with a shock diagnosis.
“I don’t think I’d be in a proper mental state if the Lodge didn’t exist. I can concentrate on healing, being positive and resting as well. One thing that’s unique about this place is the support network you have with the other cancer patients. We’re quite tight.
“There are no barriers here because you know they’re in the same boat as you. You will always find someone going through the same treatment or some are worse off than you and that gives you inspiration.”
Gillies says he would have had to travel from Rotorua to Hamilton every day if he hadn’t found out about the Lodge. But the effects of chemotherapy would have meant he would not have been able to drive himself.
“The fatigue from the chemotherapy builds up. At the moment I don’t drive because I just get tired and I sleep a lot. So having the Lodge, it’s amazing. I didn’t even know it existed! And we all talk about it here. Every single cancer patient here is amazed it exists and we have this for free. This is the only Lodge that provides all the meals and it’s thanks to donations and volunteers!”
Cancer treatment at Waikato Hospital continues throughout the summer, including over the Christmas and New Year break, and the Lodge stays open too.
Lodge manager Henny Swinkels says that the festive season can be especially difficult for guests who are going through a gruelling treatment programme while far from their loved ones.
“This is one of the hardest times of the year for our guests. Thankfully, we have more than 40 volunteers who give up their time to help staff make the Lodge a ‘home away from home’. We also have a regular rota of baking from our volunteers that never fails to bring some festive cheer.”
Earlier this year, increasing demand resulted in the Lodge opening seven days a week. Numbers have since reached an unprecedented high, with more than double the occupancy rate of five years ago.
The Cancer Society is not directly government-funded and relies on the generosity of donors to keep its doors open all year round.
Make a special gift to Cancer Society’s Lions Lodge this Christmas and help bring joy and comfort to people with cancer during the toughest of times here.