VINTON–According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), “Every day thousands of cancer patients need a ride to treatment, but some may not have a way to get there. Everyday patients miss potentially life-saving cancer treatment appointments because they can’t afford transportation or are too ill to drive themselves. ”
The ACS “Road to Recovery” program provides free transportation to and from treatment for people who have cancer who do not have a ride or are unable to drive themselves.
Volunteer drivers donate their time and the use of their cars so that patients can receive the life-saving treatments they need. They are not only assisting the cancer patients themselves, but entire families.
Julie Satterwhite, Community Manager for the American Cancer Society in the Vinton, Roanoke, and Salem areas, is actively recruiting volunteer drivers who can assist those who need this service. Volunteers are needed not just locally, but across the country.
Volunteer drivers donate their time, the use of their car, and resources (gasoline) to take patients to treatment and back home again. They also provide encouragement and support. Many are retired, but some work part-time or have flexible schedules that enable them to volunteer.
Drivers must have a valid driver’s license for the state where they live. They must also have a safe, reliable vehicle and proof of automobile insurance. Patients generally ride in the front passenger seat, which must be easily accessible. In addition, volunteer drivers must have a good driving history and be in good health.
Drivers can work whenever it’s convenient for them, one day a week, during the evening, on weekends, or just in the summer.
Some pick up patients, wait for their treatments and then take them back home. Generally treatments that involve radiation are relatively short in duration. Chemotherapy treatments are more lengthy, so a driver might drop a patient off, run errands, and return later to return them to their homes Or the volunteer might coordinate with another driver to provide the service. Scheduling can be flexible, but the patient must be assured of a way home.
“Some patients are elderly and no longer drive; some are too sick after treatment to get behind the wheel; some are not located near public transportation; and most do not want to burden their families with having to drive them,” said an ACS Road to Recovery volunteer in California. “We’ve come a long way in cancer research and treatment, but all the research in the world doesn’t do any good if people cannot get to their treatments.”
Many Road to Recovery volunteers begin driving as a way to give back. That’s true for Melvin Crowder who lives in Hanging Rock near Salem, whose first wife was a victim of breast cancer. She was diagnosed in 1993 and died in 1996. She was able to participate in Relay for Life in 1994, and he has continued on the Salem Church of Christ Relay Team ever since. Crowder has been transporting cancer patients to Carilion Clinic and Lewis Gale for treatments for the past four or five years.
“I was fortunate that I worked for Norfolk Southern Railroad, and I was able to take off from work to take my wife for treatments,” said Crowder. “Some can’t do that, especially the older ones and those who are a little bit disabled.”
“I pick patients up at their house and deliver them to the clinic,” said Crowder. “I either wait for them or go back and pick them up, depending on what kind of treatment they’re getting. It’s a service that is needed for folks who don’t have transportation or their family is working, if they live alone, or their spouse is deceased.”
Crowder, who has since remarried, retired from Norfolk Southern in 2000 after over 35 years which began with constructing railcars and ended with a supervisory position.
Crowder and other volunteers receive training locally from the ACS on transporting patients in the Road to Recovery Program. They learn exactly what to do and say, and what not to do when they transport patients. A main concern is maintaining the privacy and dignity of the patient involved.
Patients must be ambulatory and live within a reasonable distance from their treatment center.
“The main role of the volunteer, other than transportation, is to be a listening ear, to give support,” said Satterwhite. “They are advised not to give medical advice or suggest treatments, and to maintain the confidentiality of the patient.”
Satterwhite offers the training in her office about once a month, scheduled at the convenience of the volunteers.
She currently has ten volunteers in the program, serving Roanoke City, Roanoke County, and Salem.
“There is always a growing need for drivers,” said Satterwhite. “We have more patients than we can transport.”
“Most of our volunteer drivers have some connection to cancer,” said Satterwhite. “They are typically cancer survivors or caregivers, but there is no required criteria to serve as a Road to Recovery volunteer.”
Those who would like to join the Road to Recovery Program as volunteer drivers should call Julie Satterwhite at the American Cancer Society at 540-774-2716, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.cancer.org for more information.
Patients who need a ride to and from treatment or anyone who wishes to make a donation may use the same contact information. Over 30 people in the Roanoke area currently use the Road to Recovery service.
In other American Cancer Society news, the Vinton Relay for Life kick-off for 2013 will be on January 7 at 6:00 p.m. in the William Byrd High School cafeteria. This year’s slogan is “Step up to the Plate/Strike out cancer”. Vinton’s goal is again to raise $100,000. The Vinton Relay, which helps support ACS programs, such as Road to Recovery, will be held on April 19. The first fundraiser of the year will be on the night of the kick-off with T-shirts on sale featuring this year’s motto for $12.00.