GREENFIELD — Debbie Shircliff was sure of one thing as she endured cancer treatment 10 years ago: She had at least one person who would be there every step of the way.
The Greenfield resident and breast cancer survivor now volunteers to be a friend to others battling cancer. As a volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program, she drives local patients to hospitals for treatment.
The program needs more volunteers, and Shircliff wants Hancock County residents to know how much those rides mean to patients facing life-threatening diseases.
“I had a friend who went with me to all of my treatments,” Shircliff said. “I knew, when I was finished and got back on my feet, I wanted to pay back and help people who needed rides.”
For several years, she’s been a trusty chauffeur for the Hancock County neighbors who need her.
The American Cancer Society launched its ride program because many patients across the United States need help getting to treatment, mission delivery specialist Robin Rockel said.
“Transportation is a huge barrier for people who are in cancer treatment,” Rockel said. “When people have no options for transportation, they’re going to have to cancel the appointments that are lifesaving.”
The rides are free to cancer patients who need them. The only requirement is patients have to be able to get in and out of the car on their own.
For the past several years, Hancock County’s program has had at least two regular drivers and others who volunteered when they could. But recently, the program has seen an increase in the number of requests and isn’t able to fill them all.
Sherry Lawrence, oncology nurse navigator for Hancock Cancer Care, said that might be related to the new cancer center opening at Hancock Regional Hospital.
Though the new center has not yet opened its doors, it is seeing patients in a temporary office in Suite 50 of the professional building at the hospital. Last year, Lawrence saw 124 new cancer patients.
Surrounding counties, such as Marion and Hamilton, have always had a steady call for drivers, Rockel said. But Hancock County hasn’t been so needy.
“Those requests have boomed lately,” she said. “Toward the end of 2014, we were getting a lot more rides than we could fill.”
The organization is calling for more volunteers and hopes to attract Hancock County residents who are looking for a way to help. Because most patients’ appointments are during the day, drivers need to have that time available, but anyone 18 to 85 can help, even if they can only volunteer a few hours every month.
“We never know what requests we’re going to get. … It always changes, so the more flexible a person can be, the better,” Rockel said.
Applying to become a volunteer is easy, she said. The society performs a background and driving record check. Training can be completed online.
It’s the perfect opportunity for someone who is looking for a way to help others, Lawrence said.
“It just fulfills a need in the community,” she said.
Lauren Skeldon, a Greenfield resident who is battling melanoma, knows firsthand how important the program is. She’s not able to drive to treatments, so she relies on Shircliff and other volunteers. Without the service, she would have to call a cab, which could become expensive for someone living on a fixed income.
“It’s lifesaving, actually,” Skeldon said. “The thing is, I can’t remember what day it is. It is so helpful to know this is a consistent thing that happens.”
The program does more than provide a ride to Skeldon. Because Shircliff is the one who drives her to most of her treatments, the two have grown close.
“It’s not like a cab driver,” Skeldon said. “We formed a friendship, and we laugh.”
Shircliff serves as inspiration for Skeldon. Because she survived cancer, she provides hope to other patients battling the disease.
It’s all about spreading positivity during a person’s darkest times, Shircliff said.
“I want to give people hope because you need hope when you’re going through cancer treatments,” she said. “I wanted people to see there’s life after cancer.”
To volunteer to be a driver for Road to Recovery in Hancock County, go to cancer.org/involved/volunteer/road-to-recovery-volunteers.
Licensed drivers need to be at least 18 and younger than 86. Volunteers must have their own vehicle to drive.
If you’re a cancer patient and need a ride to a treatment appointment, contact the American Cancer Society at 317-344-7800 or 800-227-2345.