Jill MacDonald can’t imagine what it would have been like if her mother didn’t have someone to help her to and from cancer treatments.
“She had somebody, which is nice,” MacDonald said when reflecting on when she used to drive her mother back and forth from treatment. But many people don’t have someone, and can’t afford the costs of paying for the frequent trips to the hospital or doctor’s office. It doesn’t have to be that way.
MacDonald is now part of the American Cancer Society’s Road To Recovery program, having been a driver for a year and now coordinator of the south
Charlotte effort. She has a handful of dedicated drivers, but she needs more as the need has increased in the area.
Having to turn down people needing a ride for life-saving treatments isn’t an option.
“My mom, she had cancer, and I was there for her from the time she was diagnosed,” MacDonald said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. They don’t even have a ride to get to their treatment. It’s hard enough to get a diagnosis, but to not even have a ride or a relative or a friend…”
Drivers can volunteer their time at least once a month, or more frequently if wished, to drive south Charlotte cancer patients to and from their appointments. Volunteers don’t have to provide the round-trip ride if they don’t have time, and a number of different opportunities are available to help.
“Transportation truly is the biggest barrier to patient care,” said Kari Dahlstrom, the director of media relations for the American Cancer Society in Charlotte. If a patient can’t get a ride, many times they just can’t get treatment. “Without their treatment, their journey is not going to be long lived,” Dahlstrom added.
Some people may shy away from the effort, worrying it would be awkward to spend a ride with someone they barely know at a difficult time in that person’s life.
“People tell us (sometimes) that they’re just a little nervous, ‘What am I going to talk about?’” Aliesha Hendrix, program coordinator, said. “Some of the drivers that have driven a lot just let the patient take the lead (on if they want to chat) … It’s a little bit stepping out of the box of your own comfort, but it quickly falls away.”
MacDonald urges people to take that step out of their comfort zone. She knows she could handle the need in south Charlotte if she had a dozen people who could do at least one or two days a month. She has a number of people in need who could use the help.
“Everybody is so thankful and appreciative … it’s very gratifying, you really can make a difference in somebody’s life and you see it, you know you’re making a difference right then.”
Most of the rides are from the Ballantyne area to uptown Charlotte, MacDonald said. An email is sent out to all registered drivers, who go through a brief training first, and the drivers can respond if they are available to pick up the patient.
“It’s one of the simplest ways to give back if you have the time,” Dahlstrom added. “You are touching somebody just by being in their presence, truly saving their life.”
Email Hendrix at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how to help.