For cancer patients, chemotherapy and radiation treatments are lifesaving.
What’s preventing some patients from getting them is a ride.
“A lot of times people might have a barrier getting there, whether it’s that they’re too sick to drive themselves, their caregiver can’t take off work and they need a ride, if they can’t afford the gas, if they don’t have a vehicle,” said Robin Rockel, a program manager with the American Cancer Society.
The ACS has a 24-7 hotline for cancer patients and caregivers can call about anything cancer-related.
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Transportation or lodging were top needs when the Road to Recovery service started 25 years ago.
“People think of the American Cancer Society as a research organization, and that’s a huge part of what we do. But if we keep doing all of these great advancements with cancer research and find these new treatments, if people can’t get to these appointments, it really doesn’t matter,” Rockel said.
That’s where Shaely King comes in. He volunteers his time, his SUV and money.
Volunteers cover gas costs and any other costs related to the trip.
King and his wife moved to Brown County from Zionsville in October. He hopes to move the Road to Recovery to Brown County, too.
“I told them I am willing to help in Brown County, but I can’t do it alone because there may be too many requests for me to help fill. We do need more people to get involved,” King said.
There are no income guidelines for benefiting.
“If there’s a need, we take the request,” Rockel said.
A patient must be able to walk and not need a wheelchair. Patients also must call and request a ride at least four days in advance to give the society time to find volunteers.
All appointments and treatments must be cancer-related.
Background and motor vehicle records checks are conducted on each volunteer. Volunteers must also complete online training before they can begin driving.
The county’s public transportation service, Access Brown County, also offers rides to medical and other appointments. It has two drivers to cover all trips requested to and from work, school, errands and other places in and out of the county
Rockel believes there’s a need for more medical transportation in Brown County, but because of a lack of volunteers, Road to Recovery hasn’t been offered here — yet.
“Getting the word out is the first step,” she said.
‘I sit there and I listen’
Many of the volunteer drivers in other counties have had cancer or been caregivers to cancer patients.In 2013, King was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He had surgery to remove his tumor and went through chemotherapy. In December, he had a follow-up CT scan and it was negative for any cancer.King will continue to have CT scans, ultrasounds and other checkups every six months for two years before doctors will declare him in remission.
He knows what it’s like to have cancer, and he connects with the patients he drives because of it.
But during the car ride, King lets the patients lead the conversation.
“If they feel like talking about their disease and what they’re going through, then I sit there and I listen. Then I tell them that I am a cancer survivor myself (and) here’s my story. It kind of brings a connection to us,” he said.
“I found one thing about people with cancer is when you’re first diagnosed, it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have cancer.’ You’re freaking out. It’s the big ‘C’ word. Nobody wants to hear that. The more you go through it, the more you deal with and the more you survive it, the more proud you are to tell your story.”
King carries a reminder of it on his wrist every day in the form of a yellow Livestrong bracelet.
When he was recovering from his chemotherapy and not working, he went to the American Cancer Society looking for volunteer opportunities. He was connected with Rockel.
Since spring 2014, he has driven 60 to 70 patients to their appointments.
When he was living in Zionsville, he would often pick the longest drives, like to Franklin or Greenwood, because he knew those would less likely be picked by other volunteers in the area.
King was fortunate to have his wife to drive him to and from his treatments. He knows not everyone has that option.
‘Help other people’
The American Cancer Society provides volunteers with an online portal that lists patients in need of rides and allows volunteers to pick what is convenient for them.Sometimes, the appointments last 15 to 20 minutes, like radiation; others, like chemotherapy, last for hours. King will either wait in the waiting room or run some errands. He gives his cellphone number to the patients and lets them know he will drop everything to come get them if they finish early.Once, a man made a request King had not heard — he wanted him to sit with him and watch TV during his chemotherapy treatment. The man lived alone, did not have children nearby and wanted company.
“I was more than happy to do it. We watched reruns of ‘Gunsmoke,’” he remembered.
King has not given a ride to someone he has not enjoyed, he said.
“You find the people who need the rides, they don’t have somebody they can talk to and sometimes it just gives them an opportunity to talk to somebody that’s been there,” he said.
“Why should people do it? Because that’s what we do as people is help other people. I mean, it’s not a difficult thing to do. You get in your car, you go pick somebody up, you take them to their doctor, you wait for them, then you bring them home,” he said.
“If you’ve got the time, why not use it help other people?”
The Road to Recovery program is not the only service available to cancer patients and caregivers in Brown County.
The society has a wig bank for women who are going through cancer treatments and losing their hair. If their insurance won’t cover it, or there’s an expensive co-pay, women can get a wig through the society’s wig bank. Through the American Cancer Society, the Curl Up and Dye Salon on Honeysuckle Lane can provide free, brand new wigs that are fit and styled specifically for each woman.
This service was not utilized by any cancer patient in Brown County in 2015, said Robin Rockel, program manager of Mission Delivery with the American Cancer Society.
“Every woman is entitled to one wig when she’s going through cancer treatment through our wig banks. They just need to give us a call and we can let them know all of the details about the program and who to call to set up an appointment,” Rockel said.
Last year, some Brown County residents received personal health managers from the American Cancer Society. They are toolkit that can be used to organize all the paperwork cancer patients will receive after being diagnosed, such as insurance information or lab results.
“All of that paperwork is a little overwhelming and maybe you want to look through it later, but you don’t want it to get lost,” Rockel said.
Each kit is based specifically on the type of cancer the patient was diagnosed with.
The toolkits are mailed to the patient’s home for free, Rockel said.
A patient or caregiver can call the American Cancer Society hotline to request a toolkit.
Cancer patients or caregivers are welcome to call the society’s hotline to receive emotional support, too.
“If I wake up in the middle of the night and I am losing my hair, or I just need someone to talk to, people can call that number and they’ll reach a real person at 2 o’clock in the morning and they can talk to them with whatever they need,” Rockel said.
The society cannot give medical advice, but can provide information on what surgery or treatments involve. They can also help patients and caregivers determine what questions they need to ask their doctors to get more information.
To receive more information on the Road to Recovery program, the wig bank or personal health managers, call the American Cancer Society hotline at 1-800-227-2345.