Drivers wanted on cancer patients' road to recovery
By Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Published: Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
Wanted by the American Cancer Society: Westmoreland County drivers with time on weekdays to shuttle cancer patients to and from doctor visits.
The society's Road to Recovery program, which organizes the rides, desperately needs volunteers.
“The program's there, but we need help,” said program coordinator Dianne Ostop of Greensburg, who has had five bouts with breast cancer. “I really don't have enough drivers. That's where our problem is. The program is just amazing, and we really, really need it.”
Ostop said she can't meet patients' needs. In some months, that has meant more than half of the ride requests have gone unfilled.
“I haven't had a month where I could fill everything,” she said.
Her roster of drivers numbers 20, six of whom are active. Each month, she fields about 25 requests for rides.
She expects the shortage to grow more acute as winter approaches and some volunteers head south for the season.
The 15-year-old program has helped more than 50,000 people nationwide, Ostop said.
Volunteers pick up patients at their doors, drive them to the doctor's office, then take them back home.
Requests for help have grown because of the economy, she said. Many who ask for rides are senior citizens who don't drive, while others are low-income families. Some families with a sick child need to care for the child on the trip and can't do the driving.
“A lot of them have said they've worn out their welcome with friends and family,” Ostop said.
Ostop works around drivers' schedules, knowing that some can volunteer only during certain months or certain hours. Even volunteering one day per week or month helps, she said.
Drivers undergo training and a security check. Most drivers use their cars for the program. They are not reimbursed for their time, their gasoline or their parking fees. They don't accept money from patients.
“They're giving up a lot to do this, because they want to,” Ostop said. “They do a fabulous job.”
But the drivers do get something thing in return, she said: “It just does your heart good.”
“They get a lot back,” she said. “It's just the chit-chat back and forth. ... There's so many stories, and it just brings tears to your eyes.”
Volunteer Ron Machens knows the bonds and friendships formed during the program.
Machens understands that some people might not like to drive into Pittsburgh or might be deterred by the cost of gas. But to him, volunteering is “a civic duty.”
“I feel volunteering is important,” said Machens, 72, of Murrysville. “I do it because these people don't really have any options, and they need help.”
He's helped Angela Moreci, 86, of Penn Township to get to her appointments.
Moreci doesn't drive, so she relied on Road to Recovery to deliver her to radiation treatments in Forbes Regional Hospital. Moreci went into remission after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, but the cancer has now returned.
“They have been so good to me, really,” she said. “They're desperate for volunteers.”
Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or email@example.com.
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