Cancer society program seeks volunteer drivers

The need is great, and the reward, according to those involved in the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program, is even greater.

Road to Recovery matches cancer patients with volunteer drivers who take them to and from their treatments. Debra Armstrong, ACS quality of life manager, said the program is in desperate need of more drivers.

"We have 33 drivers, but we could use 100," Armstrong said. "We get 10 to 12 requests a day, but ... if there's (no volunteer), some of them just don't go. They don't make it to their appointments."

She speculated that there were so few volunteers due to difficulty in getting the word out about the program.

"Because our volunteers just love it," she said. "For something so simple, giving someone a lift, it's so rewarding."

Most cancer treatments are scheduled between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, so volunteers are usually off work during those hours. People can sign up to drive patients once a week or once a month, whatever fits their schedule.

For those concerned about the price of gas, Armstrong said, drivers can be scheduled to stay in their part of the valley, and they get a $25 gas card for every three rides they provide. The gas card compensation program is sponsored through government grants.

Tom Ziel has been a Road to Recovery driver for about a year and said it's all about "paying it forward."

He lost his job when his employer went out of business. This was something to help fill his time.

"I love it, all the different people you meet and all the different situations," he said. "I'm a retired therapist. I did alcohol and drug counseling ... so I can give them points on how to improve their situation or look at things from a different standpoint."

He knows what the patients are going through, having battled stage II colon cancer with surgery and chemotherapy.

"Some people I'm very friendly with," Ziel said. "They call me and ask how I'm doing. I send them cards at Christmastime. Other people, it's more professional. I'm just a driver to them. But other people, we get a bonding, and we're really close friends."

Radiation appointments take about 20 minutes. If a patient will be in treatment for three hours or less, Ziel brings a book to read in the waiting room. Chemotherapy can run as long as eight hours, so drivers drop off the patient and return when the treatment is done.

June Watson, a retiree, is a road coordinator and a driver. She makes out a week's schedule at a time.

She said not all drivers are available daily. Perhaps 25 percent are unavailable for various reasons - sickness, work, other commitments, Watson said, "and then there's (a) chunk that just works their buns off and try to take (everyone they can)."

She ran some numbers for the last four weeks.

"We had an average of 15 patients each week, with an average of 36 appointments each week," she said. "Now, we've got 33 drivers. So right there, we're in doo-doo land already."

Watson said she'd like to see drivers from all areas of the valley. Right now, they are clustered in the Henderson and Summerlin areas, with a few drivers near Nellis Air Force Base and in the southwest.

People avoid being volunteers because they think they'll have to drive patients every day, Watson said, but that's not the case.

"You could drive one your whole life, or you could drive one a month," she said. "I have some drivers who drive five times a week, but the majority, (they take) one, maybe two a week."

She recalled phoning one of the patients to tell him there was no one to drive him.

"He said, 'The VA took three months to approve this procedure. If I don't do it next week, I don't know when I can go.' It pulls at your heartstrings," she said.

For more information about the Road to Recovery program and to volunteer, call Armstrong at 891-9023 or 235-6405.

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at or 387-2949.