Have cancer but no car? Ask for a 'Road to Recovery' driver

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 24, 2014 

cancer drivers

Leola Miles, left, drops off patient Lyndy Tuson-Turner of Orcas Island at the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Cancer Center in Bellingham, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Miles coordinates volunteers who drive patients to and from the cancer center. " It has been phenomenal," said Tuson-Turner who has been staying in Bellingham but needs rides back and forth for treatment.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Imagine that you have cancer but you can't drive to your doctor's appointments or to your chemotherapy or radiation sessions.

Maybe you don't have a car. Or maybe you have one but you're so weak after treatment that it's not smart for you to drive yourself home.

There are people who can help. They're volunteer drivers with the "Road to Recovery" program run by the American Cancer Society.

The drivers transport cancer patients to and from cancer-related medical appointments. The regional program provides some 200 rides a month in Snohomish County, but Whatcom County only has six drivers at the moment, and not all of them are necessarily available when needed.

That means some cancer patients - especially those who live in parts of the county where the drivers don't live, such as Ferndale and Lynden - can't benefit from the program because there aren't enough drivers to go around.

"We're trying to manage," said Leola Miles of Bellingham, who coordinates the local drivers and also drives patients herself. "If we had more drivers, it would be so great."

Like many drivers in the program, Miles became a volunteer after someone close to her, her husband, died of cancer.

"I just really wanted to give back," Miles said. "People at the (PeaceHealth St. Joseph) Cancer Center were so kind to him."

Most of the appointments for patients who receive rides are at the Cancer Center. Sometimes, the driver takes the patient to an appointment, then waits and takes the patient home. If an appointment lasts a long time, a different driver might take the patient home.

Volunteers are screened to make sure they have a good driving record, a reliable vehicle and a clean criminal record, said Jerri Wood, who oversees the regional program from the American Cancer Society office in Everett.

Volunteers also receive training about patient privacy and rules of the program. For example, patients must be able to walk to and enter the car without assistance. If they need such help, a caregiver must accompany them.

Joan Bird of Bellingham became a driver about two years ago, not because she knew someone close to her with cancer, but because she could see the value of the program if she were to need treatment some day.

"I thought in the future I might have such a need," she said.

Bird is a bird-watcher who travels a lot, so she appreciates the program's flexibility. She drives patients when she can, but doesn't have to commit to a fixed schedule.

Bird said spending time driving the patients has changed her perspective about cancer.

"They're so positive, so willing to do whatever they need to do," she said. "It's not at all depressing, which some people might think it is. It's rather uplifting."

TO HELP

People who like to become volunteer drivers for the American Cancer Society's "Road to Recovery" program should contact Jerri Wood at 425-404-2199 or jerri.wood@cancer.org.

Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-229 or dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com .

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