Gary lost his wife.
Mike lost his lung.
But now they’re on the Road to Recovery — and they’re giving back to others whose lives have been affected by cancer.
Local volunteers Gary Williams and Mike Sudal are drivers for Road to Recovery, a program coordinated by the American Cancer Society. They’re part of a team of about 30 drivers who provide transportation to patients who otherwise can’t get to their cancer treatments.
The program has been serving the Henry Cancer Center at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center for decades. While it serves other healthcare facilities across the state, in the northeast, Geisinger appointments make up most of the rides requested, according to Jennifer Washney, program manager of the American Cancer Society.
Christine Krumich, operations director of Geisinger’s Hematology Oncology department, said this program is not only helping Geisinger’s patients with logistics — it helps with their treatment, too.
“One of the stressors in treatment is staying compliant,” says Krumich. “There are people who, after trying to figure it all out, will give up. This program saves those people.”
Krumich also says those undergoing cancer treatment are dealing with difficult emotions, too. “Some patients feel guilty because they feel like they’re putting a burden on their family members. For many treatments, you can’t drive yourself because of the side effects. The Road to Recovery program eliminates some of that emotional stress for patients.”
The program is assisted by Geisinger social workers Cindy Brin and Colleen Pretko, who connect patients with the American Cancer Society’s volunteer coordinators. Volunteers are scheduled to drive one day a week, but will help out whenever they’re called, too.
Gary lost his first wife to cancer. He says it was about a year later when he started driving for Road to Recovery in her honor.
“I’m retired, and I enjoy helping other people. You get to know them,” says Gary, of Shavertown. “Most people tell us there would be no way they could afford this transportation otherwise.”
Mike knows what it’s like to be in the backseat on the way to cancer treatments — he was there 14 years ago. After months of treatment for lung cancer, he eventually had one of his lungs removed. Three months after that procedure, the Pittston Township resident was on the road again — only this time, he was in the driver’s seat.
“I’m a people person. There’s no greater feeling than helping people,” says Mike about driving for the Road to Recovery program. “I feel like I’m giving back to God for letting me live.”
To thank the drivers for their time and support, an appreciation luncheon was held at the Henry Cancer Center. Oncology providers and staff members filtered in and out of the event, which featured dozens of cookies baked by the cancer center staff. By the noon start of the luncheon, volunteers had already provided 19 rides for patients — a new record.
“We are grateful to all of the volunteer drivers who have been taking patients to their lifesaving treatments through the years,” says Washney. “It is more than a ride. It is a journey that drivers and cancer patients take together.”
The program is always seeking more drivers in all counties across Pennsylvania. Participants must be between the ages of 18 and 84 and have the following:
- Good driving record
- Current driver’s license
- Proof of automobile insurance
- Safe and reliable vehicle
- Schedule availability
- Regular desktop, laptop or tablet computer access
Washney says in the 12 counties she covers, there are more than 150 drivers in the Road to Recovery program. In addition to drivers, there is a need for volunteer coordinators and recruiters to help get more drivers on the road across Pennsylvania.Next steps:
Your community has a lot to offer. Find community resources.
Are you a cancer survivor? Learn about life after cancer.
Find a support network. Search for cancer support groups.
Get information on Road to Recovery. Visit cancer.org/drive or call 800-227-2345.