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November 2006 Issue

Georgia native Shirley Johnson found “hope” in Cincinnati when she was treated for cancer by UC surgeon John Howington, MD, and offered free lodging during her treatments courtesy of the American Cancer Society.
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Cancer Patients Find 'Hope' in Cincinnati

By Amanda Harper
Published November 2006

When Shirley Johnson, 70, was diagnosed with recurrent lowgrade fatty tumors between her lungs in 2005, her doctors in Atlanta said they couldn’t be surgically removed, and then offered her radiation therapy as a last-ditch treatment.


“I was completely distraught because they gave me absolutely no hope,” Johnson recalls. “Then a friend told me about a Cincinnati thoracic surgeon who specialized in complex cancer cases who might be able to help, so I called him immediately.”


That surgeon was John Howington, MD, chief of thoracic surgery at UC and University Hospital. Johnson and her daughter, Sandy, didn’t waste time. Just one week after her diagnosis, they boarded a plane to Cincinnati, where Johnson would have her first consultation with Howington.


Johnson had a large but low grade cancerous tumor in the center of her chest on her esophagus and near her windpipe. Howington and his team performed an operation to remove the tumor while carefully working around the esophagus, trachea and large vessels in the chest. Much like open heart surgery, this procedure requires a seven-inch cut over and through the breast bone to access the central chest cavity.


“We were able to remove all visible portions of Ms. Johnson’s tumor in surgery, and any residual cancer cells should be eradicated with radiation therapy,” says Howington. “We gave her new hope, and she’s recovering very well.”


Patients and doctors alike recognize that it’s not just the emotional costs of cancer that run high— treatment also poses a tremendous financial burden to patients and their family.


Johnson says she can’t fully express how grateful she is for the care and emotional support she received from Howington and the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge, the free, temporary housing facility for cancer patients who are undergoing treatment in Cincinnati.


“I was so worried about being able to afford somewhere to stay during treatment. Hope Lodge allowed me to get the best care available without having to worry about the financial stresses of traveling for treatment,” she says.


“In my case, that opportunity truly saved my life, because it brought me to Dr. Howington,” Johnson says. “He gave me hope and encouragement when I thought there was none left.”


Tracy Higdon, director of Cincinnati’s Hope Lodge, says the facility’s warm, understanding environment also encourages guests to rally around and support one another during their treatment. There are only 22 such facilities across the United States.


“We created the lodge to increase patient access to specialized cancer care, regardless of where they live or how much money they have,” says Higdon. “More out-of-town patients are choosing to have their cancer treatment in Cincinnati because they can use the Hope Lodge facilities completely free of charge instead of dealing with pricey hotel rooms.”


“Dealing with cancer is emotionally difficult for any patient, and financial stress only compounds the problem,” adds Howington. “Hope Lodge is a great resource for my patients who are traveling to Cincinnati for specialized care they can’t get other places.”


Nearly 150 University Hospital cancer patients—100 percent of them traveling over 40 miles for treatment—have taken advantage of these services since the lodge opened in 2004. For more information on services available at Hope Lodge, call Higdon at (513) 618-5585.

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