Georgia nonprofit supports cancer patients from near and far

AUGUSTA, Georgia (AP) – It’s about an hour and a half drive from Wrightsville, Georgia to Augusta Oncology. For more than a decade, Marie Moye made that drive from her hometown to the chemotherapy and radiation treatment center after being diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2008.

That changed in 2020 when an Augusta Oncology nurse referred her to The Lydia Project. Moye was already familiar with the nonprofit after receiving a signature tote bag of supporting items from them shortly after her initial diagnosis. While The Lydia Project has been handing out its totes to encourage cancer patients for many years, Moye has learned that they do so much more.

For six weeks, Moye was able to stay at the Lydia Project’s home on the Interstate Parkway in Augusta, just a short drive from her treatments. The home can accommodate up to 10 patients and their caregivers and meals are included free of charge with their stay.

“I don’t know where I would be without The Lydia Project,” Moye said. “It changed my whole life… I knew I couldn’t get through it without a shelter.”

Moye is one of hundreds of cancer patients who have called The Lydia Project home, and not all of them are from Georgia. Guests include cancer patients from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina who chose to receive medical care and treatments from one of Augusta’s many oncology specialists.

When Sandra Hall of Ridgeway, South Carolina, was diagnosed with mild dysplasia in May, her doctor told her to see an oncologist. She and her daughter, Lindsay Ambush, began researching potential doctors and found that “the cream of the crop” was in Augusta, she said.

After seeing a doctor at Augusta University’s Georgia Cancer Center, she learned she needed a bone marrow transplant. Because of the one and a half hour drive, the doctor referred her to The Lydia Project. Ambush and Hall checked into the home on Aug. 23 to get a sense of what life would be like at home before turning in for surgery two days later.

The pair were hospitalized until October 1, and are still staying at The Lydia Project’s home as they continue treatment in Augusta. Ambush can work remotely in the home’s library, while Hall rests and recovers in her room between appointments.

“(The Lydia Project) took our mind off some issues and allowed me to improve my strength and work on me,” Hall said. “I feel like I’ve been able to focus on my health and my needs.”

“It’s a burden because as a caregiver you think about how to support and how to get there, but also the cost of driving and eating,” Ambush said.

Brenda McGarr is an oncology nurse navigator for Augusta Oncology who assists patients with services needed during treatment. The Lydia project has been a valuable asset to her, and she said she can’t remember being asked for anything and they said no.

While The Lydia Project’s home is limited, Executive Director Michele Canchola said it’s partnering with local hotels and an Airbnb. Last year, a family used the Airbnb home to celebrate Christmas while their child was being treated nearby. The homeowner even bought a Christmas tree to brighten up the holiday.

One of its greatest strengths, McGarr said, is transportation to treatment, especially when organizations like the American Cancer Society had to shut down some of its services due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lydia project works with various transport services to get patients where they need to go.

“Some people can’t get treatment,” she said. “Especially some of those who have lower incomes and cannot stop working or their family members cannot stop working. Sometimes they can’t afford the gas.”

The transportation services are intended for residents of Augusta and those in rural parts of Georgia. Some patients require surgery that sometimes requires them to report as early as 4 a.m., and the Lydia Project can still find transportation for them, Canchola said.

Housing and transportation are the two main programs the Lydia Project offers, but Canchola said they also help pay rent, utilities, prescriptions and medical costs. All services, including housing and transportation, must be referred by a doctor.

As of November 2, the nonprofit has helped 2,502 men, women and children who have cancer this year alone. Individuals can also call the office for prayer and monthly visits during their cancer journey.

Moye said the prayers and visits as soon as she got home were vital, especially when she felt hopeless.

“They always have something to offer to help you,” she said.

For all its services, the organization’s seven paid employees rely heavily on volunteers, with approximately 600 working in various roles. That keeps costs down and allows The Lydia Project to operate on a $440,000 budget.

Fundraising opportunities have taken a hit during the pandemic. The financial challenge, Canchola said, comes with naysayers.

“You need to look further afield and see the 81-year-old woman who needs help with her energy bill,” she said. “This is (God’s) ministry and I see it every day.”

A fundraiser The Lydia project continues: the 16th annual Lights for Lydia. For $10, those who donate will receive 10 luminarias to place in their homes or local businesses in December. More details can be found on The Lydia Project’s website, thelydiaproject.org.

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