Young cancer patient and her dog welcomed at Hope Lodge

Laura Litchfield

Laura Litchfield’s cancer journey began when she was only 12 years old. One day she went for a horseback ride in her home town of Franklin, North Carolina, when the horse was suddenly spooked and bucked her off. She fell hard, landing through a fence. Laura experienced pain all over her body, including leg paralysis and flu-like symptoms. The pain continued well after the fall, with Laura seeing many doctors to find the root of the problem. 

After six weeks of testing, an MRI was finally ordered. The scan revealed some surprising news – Laura had five Myxopapillary Ependymoma tumors in her lower spine. She immediately began rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, and after two years Laura’s tumors went into remission.  However, two years later, at the age of 16, a new tumor appeared and Laura was back for additional chemotherapy and radiation. This time the tumors did not respond. 

After visiting doctor after doctor, Laura was finally referred to Dr. Nancy Tarbell at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston. She began radiation treatment at MGH and met American Cancer Society Patient Navigator Abby Larsordo.  As a Patient Navigator, Abby helps cancer patients navigate the many systems needed during treatment. Abby told Laura about the Society's Hope Lodge in Worcester, and she officially became a guest in December, at age 22.

Although Laura was initially unsure what her stay at Hope Lodge would be like, she quickly found it was a great fit. Along with her mother, she brought her assistance dog, Bahnsen, an accessory not every lodging facility welcomes. Bahnsen assists Laura with her stability and helps her get around, if she needs it. 

“The Lodge has exceeded my expectations,” said Laura. “I’m amazed how friendly and helpful the staff and volunteers are to me.” 

Laura continues to exude positivity throughout her cancer journey, and Hope Lodge has helped with that process. Likewise, Hope Lodge has benefited from Laura’s great sense of humor and passion for life.

More about Hope Lodge

Facing cancer is hard. Having to travel out of town for treatment can make it even harder. That's why the American Cancer Society operates 31 Hope Lodges, including three in New England - in Worcester, Boston, and Burlington, VT.  Each facility offers cancer patients and their caregivers a free, temporary place to stay when their best hope for effective treatment may be in another city. Not having to worry about where to stay or how to pay for lodging allows guests to focus on getting well. Learn more.

PHOTO: Laura and her assistance dog, Bahnsen, 2008.