Volunteers needed to help transport cancer patients

Published: Sunday, Dec. 9 2012 8:03 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — When Ken Britton's wife died of breast cancer nearly three years ago, he spent some time "trying to figure out what to do with my life."

Among other things that now fill his days, the Millcreek resident helps other cancer patients have more hope of getting well by providing a ride to and from treatment sessions throughout the valley.

"I don't sit with them. It takes me too close to where I was with my wife," Britton said, adding that his wife was the impetus for the service, giving him more reason to help where he can.

"Hopefully she's proud of me for that," he said, "but it also helps me to not forget her."

Britton, 61, is one of six drivers who volunteer to help at least 40 cancer patients get where they need to go for much-needed treatment procedures each month.

The American Cancer Society lines up the rides for patients from as far north as Ogden and as far south as Provo, but the organization is in need of additional drivers to meet the patient demand for its Road to Recovery program.

"Students, members of retirement communities or anyone with just a few hours a week to step forward is all we need," said Barbara Bassett, the quality of life manager for the American Cancer Society in Salt Lake City. "We can raise all the money in the world, but if these patients can't get to their treatment, we're not meeting their needs."

Volunteer drivers donate their time and resources, and must have a valid Utah driver's license, a safe, reliable car and proof of automobile insurance. They also must have a safe driving history and be in good health. A background check and online training must be completed prior to providing the transportation service.

Cancer patients recieving infusion, radiation or chemotherapy treatments aren't advised to drive themselves to and from appointments, as the medicine has the potential to cause some undesirable side effects, such as extreme fatigue, confusion, nausea and other issues.

The majority of patients referred to the program have no other way of getting to their appointments, said American Cancer Society spokeswoman Patricia Monsoor.

Many don't have family or friends nearby, and some either don't own their own car or can no longer drive.

"Their treatment is their only way of dealing with what is happening to them," Britton said. "If they can't get to treatment, it's a terrifying thing for them, and you get a lot of satisfaction knowing that you're helping them through that."

He said he becomes friends with some of the patients, providing transport for a longer period of time, and others "don't want to talk about it."

Britton said many patients are nervous for their first treatment, and his experience with his wife allows him the opportunity to "give assurance that they're going to be OK for that treatment."

He has logged more than 2,000 service miles this year, 2,700 miles in 2011 and about 2,000 in 2010. The farthest he's gone is to Coalville and back, twice a week, every three weeks for a year. His passenger really loved listening to Elvis music, Britton said, so he obliged with his satellite radio options, saying it was a good time.

"The thrill of it is being able to help people when they're really having a hard time," he said.

To become a volunteer, contact the local American Cancer Society office at 800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards

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