This year over 70,000 Pennsylvania residents will learn they have cancer. For many of those residents, however, getting to the treatment they need may be a problem. The American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program pairs volunteers with cancer patients in need of a ride to their treatments or doctor appointments.
“We identified a need through patients sharing their stories, from phone calls and (from) a community assessment, so we started the program here in Elk County in April,” said Lora Cope, cancer control specialist with the ACS.
Michelle ‘Micky’ Romania began her duties as Road to Recovery coordinator for Elk County in October.
Romania said that a patient requiring radiation therapy could need anywhere from 20 to 30 trips for treatment in six weeks, while a patient receiving chemotherapy might report for treatment weekly for up to one year.
“In many cases, a patient is driven to hospitals or clinics by relatives or friends, but even these patients must occasionally seek alternative transportation. That’s where Road to Recovery comes in,” Romania said.
Anyone can be transported as long as they are ambulatory (can get in and out of a vehicle by themselves),” Cope said.
Patients do not need a physician’s referral for the program. The program is free and there are no financial guidelines for participation. Caregivers are permitted to ride with patients.
Romania noted that patients should not assume their drivers will be able to take them to daily appointments on a regular basis; Road to Recovery is available on an as-needed basis after all other transportation options have been exhausted.
Cope emphasized the need for program volunteers, as there are currently only three drivers and one coordinator covering Elk County. Those drivers are Donna Calla of St. Marys, and Noma Olay and Judy Lilja of Ridgway.
“Volunteers arrange their own schedules, with some volunteering as little as one afternoon a month, and others driving patients as often as twice a week,” Romania said.
ACS provides compensation for the volunteers’ driving expenses: mileage is currently paid at 14 cents per mile for the federal volunteer rate, along with tolls and parking.
Volunteer drivers are required to complete a one-hour training with Cope. The training covers policies, what is expected of the driver and the process involved with the program. Drivers should possess a valid driver’s license, proof of insurance and a serviceable vehicle. They must also undergo a background check.
From May to August, local drivers have transported two patients on 16 separate trips. Romania explained that several volunteers from Cameron County have also assisted with transporting Elk County patients.
“We desperately need drivers. There is no obligation to the program for volunteers,” Romania said. “If you have a car and some spare time, you can help someone keep a potentially lifesaving appointment.”
Romania said those interested in becoming volunteer drivers should contact her at 834-4082.