After a cup of hot, black coffee and a look through the newspaper, Gerald Hutcherson climbs into his red Nissan and heads toward one of the medical facilities in Lexington where he typically drives a cancer patient for treatment. Three to four days a week for the last five years the 77-year-old has been volunteering for the American Cancer Society’s, Bluegrass Road to Recovery program. Retired from the Kentucky Army National Guard, he said, driving the patients is rewarding. “And knowing that I am helping someone that’s got cancer and you can make it a little bit easier on them, that just means everything,” Hutcherson said.
On a warm Monday afternoon Hutcherson is driving the route he uses when transporting patients for their cancer treatment. Pulling into one of the major medical facilities in Lexington he’s greeted by the guard who obviously knows him.
Hutcherson tells how his wife, Sandy , died of breast cancer a little more than twenty years ago. Knowing what she went through inspired him to volunteer. He gets choked up giving an example of what patients say to him in gratitude. He said patients always tell him how much they appreciate what he’s doing. He said, “that right there, just does a number on you.”
Hutcherson has transported more than a thousand patients. He said depending on how long treatment lasts sometimes he waits for the person and sometimes he runs errands or goes back home until it’s time to pick them up.
Volunteers in the Road to Recovery program provide their cars and time to take cancer patients from Lexington and surrounding counties to treatment according to Kelsey Lewis, program manager of mission delivery for the American Cancer Society in Kentucky.
“Transportation is one of the biggest barriers to cancer treatment for a variety of reasons. Every patient is unique. So it could be that they don’t have transportation at all, so they have no vehicle. They could have a vehicle but not able to drive themselves. They have a vehicle, they have family and friends but radiation could be Monday through Friday, five days a week but their family has to work. It’s not sustainable,” said Lewis.
Lewis said the Bluegrass Road to Recovery program is more than 15 years old. She said every volunteer is screened by someone from the American Cancer Society. Volunteers are also required to complete an online training course. Once a driver joins the program the volunteer coordinator sets them up to drive a 20- mile radius.
“We cover Fayette County and all surrounding counties. We’re looking for drivers in all counties at Fayette and the surrounding area. We are heavily in need of drivers in Clark County, Bourbon County, and Madison County currently,”said Lewis.
A couple of years ago the Bluegrass Road to Recovery program was only able to give 200 rides according to Lewis. In 2018 drivers provided over 1700 rides to patients in the Fayette County and surrounding areas. This year, Lewis said, the 35 volunteers are expected to give 2000 rides to patients.
“Actually a patient’s told me, yes, cancer was very stressful but having to ask for rides and having to ask her friends for that was even more stressful than having cancer,” said Lewis.
Patient Melinda Puckett is extremely grateful for the program. She had 13 weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation, five days a week for breast cancer. She calls the drivers wonderful people.
“I was looking for a way to get to my treatments and my family were all tied up working. And I don’t drive that far. So it was like a relief that I had that ride and I didn’t have to ask my family to take off to take me. I just can’t say enough good about them,” said Puckett
Volunteers must have a valid driver’s license, proof of auto insurance and a reliable car. Drivers are needed for weekdays and weekends and can volunteer several days a week or once a month . As for volunteer Gerald Hutcherson, he’ll continue helping out as a driver. He said he enjoys meeting the patients and it makes him feel good.
More information about volunteering is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or www.cancer.org/drive
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