As a cancer survivor, Michael Cussen knows firsthand the struggle he experienced with a diagnosis. He recalls with gratitude how he was assisted by a good friend who shuttled him back and forth between cancer treatments. Years later, the Pearl River resident found himself with a few extra hours after retiring. “I took it up as my opportunity to give back,” he says about his reasons to volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program. “I find it extremely rewarding to be able to assist someone at such a critical time in their life. The good that results from this form of giving is more self-evident than any monetary contribution or donation,” he adds.
Cussen is one of about seven volunteers across the lower Hudson Valley who pick up patients from their home and drive them to local cancer centers for treatment.
The American Cancer Society needs more volunteers like Michael,” says Maribel Palacios-Perez, Program Manager for Mission Delivery for the American Cancer Society. The need is great all over, but specifically there’s a tremendous need right now across Westchester, Rockland and the lower Hudson Valley. In 2017, the American Cancer Society provided nearly 6,500 rides to over 450 patients across New York State, Palacios-Perez said. Right now in our area the number of ride requests supersedes the number of volunteers able to give patients a lift.
“It’s an interesting way to connect with others and meet a lot of different people,” says Cussen. “In my volunteer efforts, I came to meet Mario**, an Ecuadorian immigrant afflicted with intestinal cancer. Mario was living with his brother and father, each of whom were working here to support their families back in Ecuador. Mario worked as a dishwasher, while his brother and father worked as construction laborers and didn’t have the time to attend to his transportation needs around his treatments. Through the Road to Recovery Program, we could assist Mario in making it to and from his treatments, one less thing for him to deal with in his struggle with the disease.”
“Through my volunteerism I was also able to help another local neighbor, Joe**, who is an American living abroad. He developed brain cancer and forced to return home for treatment. As family members hurriedly arranged a place to stay and establish Joe’s eligibility for health coverage, the Road to Recovery Program was there to assist with his transport needs back and forth to treatment,” Cussen added.
Once again, individuals are lessening the burden on cancer patients and their family members simply by using their vehicle and donating a few hours of time.
“One of the biggest roadblocks to cancer treatment can be lack of transportation,” said Patti Lestrange Mack, Communications Director for the American Cancer Society. “The American Cancer Society is addressing this critical need through its Road to Recovery program, but we need more volunteers to help us get cancer patients to their appointments. Even the best treatment can’t work if a cancer patient can’t get there.”
According to Lestrange Mack, all drivers need to be considered is a current, valid driver’s license, a good driving record, Proof of adequate car insurance, Access to a safe and reliable vehicle, Regular desktop, laptop, or tablet computer access and Schedule availability – which can be as little as a few hours every few months. After screening and an online training session, which includes privacy rules, the volunteer goes onto a website and enters when they are available and how far they are willing to drive. The volunteer driver then chooses from a list of locations to pick up patients. Anyone from 18 to 85 can volunteer and there’s no minimum number of rides to commit to.
“You too can help,” says Cussen. “All you need is the time to help, a desire to be of assistance to someone at a critical time in their life, a car and a sympathetic ear.”
To find out more, call 1-800-227-2345 or www.cancer.org/drive
*Names changed for privacy