A Ride for your Life

Each week, it’s like a series of blind dates. Sixty-five-year-old Anna Pearson pulls into unknown driveways in her sedan. She climbs front steps and knocks on strangers’ doors. She extends friendly greetings and pleasant car rides to her guests.

Alas, Pearson’s final destinations are not candlelit dinners. She drives cancer patients to their treatments at local health systems.

“I can’t imagine the fear that you would go through to not have a lift when you’re facing cancer,” says Pearson. “It just breaks your heart to think that someone might have cancer but doesn’t have a way to get to treatment.”

Pearson knows about the fear that goes with being diagnosed with cancer. She battled breast cancer in 2008 and underwent radiation therapy at Menorah Medical Center. She says that her experience fighting the disease makes her the perfect volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program which provides rides to and from treatment for patients who are unable to get there.

“I heard about Road to Recovery on the radio one day,” says Pearson, who is retired and has a bit of free time on her hands. “I didn’t know what to expect at first, but the patients didn’t either.“

Pearson received her first assignment from the American Cancer Society via e-mail after undergoing a volunteer training session and meeting all driving requirements for the job. She left a little early that morning to pick up Pat, her first patient for treatment.

“She was wonderful,” says Pat about meeting Pearson for the first time. “She was always on time and extra helpful. She was an inspiration to me.”

Pat and Pearson bonded quickly over their battles with breast cancer, but they also had fun on their way to and from Pat’s treatment where they talked about their families and their careers. The length of their journey together lasted every day for six weeks.

“We talked about cancer, and then we quit talking about it,” says Pearson. “We’re good friends now. I know her family, her husband and her granddaughter.”

Pat credits the free car rides for the success of her treatment. Without Pearson’s help, she’s not sure that she would have made it to the hospital.

“It was nice not to have to worry about driving or being on time or parking or driving home afterwards,” says Pat. “The whole thing was a big mental, physical and financial help.”

Megan Porter is the local American Cancer Society staff person for the Road to Recovery program. She thinks that it is incredible how many cancer patients in the area are without reliable rides to treatment.

“Many of the patients that call us for help have a working spouse or no family in the area,” says Porter. “Some may be too sick to drive, and some just don’t have the means to get there.”

Porter’s region of the American Cancer Society supported 728 rides in 2011 thanks to volunteer drivers like Pearson, but she says that the program is only meeting 75 percent of the need.

“Research shows that patients do better and have a higher chance of getting better and winning their battle if they stick to their treatments and their schedule,” she says.

Porter is actively looking for volunteers in Johnson County who are interested in signing up to serve as Road to Recovery drivers at the beginning of the year when many patients start treatment.

“The first of the year is a busy time because a lot of people are diagnosed in the fall due to prostate and breast cancer awareness months,” explains Porter. “Also, many patients undergoing treatment feel worse due to the cold weather.”

A huge number of the calls that Porter receives are from Johnson County patients who are in need of rides to treatment or from patients who need rides to one of the many health centers in Johnson County for treatment.

“A patient that needs help could be living right next door to you,” says Porter as she pleas for more Johnson County volunteers. “We’re really at the mercy of our volunteers to offer lifesaving services like Road to Recovery.”

Tish Sick has been a Road to Recovery volunteer for several years. She serves as a volunteer coordinator, a role that Porter says is vital to the program.

“It’s a nice way to give back,” says Sick, who recommends the program to anyone who is retired, not working or has a flexible schedule. “I really think it takes driving a patient just once and then you’re hooked.”

Sick says that Road to Recovery is a unique volunteer program because it provides instant gratification for the driver and instant support for the patient.

“This is a one-on-one, hands-on type of job. You’re helping to save a life basically.”


Looking to Help?

If you would like to volunteer your time to take patients to treatment, contact Megan Porter at the American Cancer Society at (816) 218-7268 or megan.porter@cancer.org to learn more about Road to Recovery.

• You must be 18 or older.

• You must have a valid driver’s license and current auto insurance.

• You must pass a background DMV check.

• You must complete a one-hour training course at the American Cancer Society’s downtown office in Kansas City, Mo.


Looking for Help?

Call (800) ACS-2345 to learn if you qualify for transportation to and from cancer treatments. Road to Recovery serves diagnosed cancer patients in the entire Kansas City Metro area.

For additional information about the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program, visit www.cancer.org.