For patients coping with cancer, the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program offers much more than transportation.
Marie Ridel has participated in the Road to Recovery program for more than a year and a half. For her, the volunteers who drive her to and from her appointments are an important support system in a difficult time.
"I live alone, and I can't depend on my family to take me every time I have to go for treatments, so these people are here, and I'll tell you, they are the most wonderful people in the world to me. They make my day," she said.
Ridel is 83 years old and has struggled with breast cancer since 1993.
"It's been an on-and-off thing," she said. "I've been a survivor, and it comes back. This is my third time around."
The Road to Recovery program offers free rides for cancer patients who are unable to arrange private transportation or who are too sick to drive themselves.
Interested in becoming a volunteer driver?
Call Debbie Moore at 888-227-6446, Ext. 2104
Be between 25 and 70 years of age
Have a current, valid drivers license
A good driving record
A safe and reliable car
Proof of car insurance
Upcoming Relay For Life events
Liberty, May 18-19, Liberty Churchill Park
Cortland, June 1-2, Lakeview High School
Austintown, June 1-2, Austintown Fitch High School
Lordstown / Newton Falls, June 8-9, Newton Falls School
"We have trained volunteer drivers who take cancer patients to their treatment and doctor appointments," said Debbie Moore, health initiatives representative at the American Cancer Society. "Cancer patients need to go to their treatment appointments. For those getting radiation, their appointments could be five days a week for six weeks or longer, so even the best-intending families find that they need some help."
In Trumbull County last year, nine volunteer drivers provided 600 rides for cancer patients, and in Mahoning County, 19 drivers provided 1,800 rides, but the need for drivers remains critical.
"We're finding that we are having to turn cancer patients away," Moore said. "They need the transportation, and we don't have enough drivers."
For volunteers, providing critical transportation to those in need is a vehicle for personal fulfillment and friendship.
"What I'm seeing with volunteers is that there is some personal tie to cancer with them, so whether they've been in the medical profession, whether they're a cancer survivor themselves or whether they've had a family member who's experienced cancer, that's oftentimes the case," Moore said.
"I'm a lot like the person she was just describing," volunteer driver Cynthia Phillips said. "I am in the medical field. I spent the last 10 years as a hospice nurse. I lost my husband in 1988 to cancer, and I'm a breast cancer survivor. I've lost family members to cancer also - my mom and dad - and I have two sisters who are breast cancer survivors."
Phillips frequently drives Ridel to her appointments.
"Some patients, like Marie, live alone," she said. "She's somebody I can be friends with and take her to her appointments. Marie and I just connected. She's a very special person."
"I've only known her for about eight months, but it feels like I've known her for 20 years," Ridel said.
"I miss that relationship, that patient-nurse relationship," Phillips said. "Although I'm not a nurse, I'm a volunteer driver, and I can give back in another way. I can just be a friend."
"They're support," Ridel said. "They're somebody that you can talk to because they've usually had cancer or somebody in their family has had cancer, so they sympathize with you. They know what you're talking about. Usually, we just have a normal conversation like you're talking to a friend. You talk about the weather, you talk about work. One of the drivers loves to dance, and I love to dance, so we talk about the '40s, you know, all the old places. We laugh. They're like family. I love them all."
"Transportation is often the missing piece," Phillips said. "We fill in the gaps, and it makes their life so much easier. They don't have to worry about calling a cousin or a neighbor. They know that their driver is going to be there and it makes their life a little bit easier."
"The best thing you can give a person is time," Ridel said, "but nobody has it. It doesn't cost a dime, it doesn't cost anything but nobody has it, or nobody gives it."
Volunteer drivers who give their time providing transportation sometimes help carry the load, and for Ridel, "they're all wonderful. I don't consider myself a special person, but they're all so special to me."