Cancer society seeking volunteers to help transport patients

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Ursula Albino and her husband, Joe, have enjoyed the last 20 years of their retirement, but in that time, they have also found ways to give back to others.

Most recently, in 2010, they signed up to volunteer for the American Cancer Society's (ACS) Road to Recovery program, which pairs community volunteers with cancer patients to provide rides to and from cancer treatments.

But in the last two years, the Albinos have remained the only volunteers covering Jefferson County, so they are seeking some extra hands.

"You might need help one day," Joe said. "If you can volunteer, volunteer, because you might be on the other end of the business."
Since 2010, Joe and Ursula have provided Jefferson County cancer patients with rides to treatments in Punxsutawney and Pittsburgh.

They decided to become involved because cancer has affected them both in different ways.

Ursula's father died from cancer, and Joe was diagnosed with both kidney and prostate cancer, but has been cancer-free for about five years.

For that, Ursula said she is very thankful. And when she heard about the program, she knew it was a good fit.

"This is the one thing I can do," she said. "If you need treatment, and you can't get to the ER, we can help. I figure if someday, I need help, somebody will help me."

But because they are the only two volunteers in the county, if they are unavailable, a cancer patient will not receive transportation.

"I feel that this is something we're really focusing on — access to care — at the American Cancer Society," said Carol Bell, cancer resource navigator with the American Cancer Society. "If you can't get patients to the treatments, then they can't get better and can't get the treatment they need."

According to ACS, more than 70,000 Pennsylvania residents will learn this year that they have cancer, and 289 of those individuals reside in Jefferson County.

Bell said a cancer patient requiring radiation therapy could need anywhere from 20 to 30 trips for treatment in six weeks, and a patient receiving chemotherapy might report for treatments on a weekly basis for up to a year.

"Offering this service to cancer patients is an integral part," Bell said. "But we haven't had a strong program in Jefferson County in a long time."

Bell said it's important for people to remember that Road to Recovery is a "curb to curb" program, which means a cancer patient must be able to move around without a wheelchair unless accompanied by a relative or a friend.

In addition, she said it's a "very flexible" program.

Volunteers can choose if they want to stay with the patient while he or she receives treatment; they can dictate how far they would be willing to travel, either locally or to a city center such as Pittsburgh or Cleveland; and they can also arrange to drop off a patient while another volunteer would pick the patient up.

But with only two volunteers in the county, these choices rest solely on the shoulders of the Albinos.

"If we're needed, and we're not here, we need to have a couple more volunteers. Even one more would help," Ursula said.

In addition to volunteers, Bell said ACS is seeking a volunteer coordinator, who doesn't usually drive, and serves as the liaison between the patients and the volunteers.

Currently, Ursula is "graciously" serving as coordinator, Bell said.
"We would like to offer this program on a regular basis, but we need a good pool of volunteers to pull from," Bell added.

Road to Recovery program volunteers are compensated for gas; however, Bell is not looking for someone who's worried about gas prices.

"We're looking for that compassionate person," she said. "Maybe that person who has walked the walk with a loved one, or witnessed a loved one go through it, or has even gone through it themselves. That is key to making this program successful."

Bell said she would like to see at least six volunteers come forward before summertime.

A formal training will be arranged in April by the staff of the American Cancer Society for those who are interested in volunteering.

ACS also provides orientation, support materials and other assistance for volunteers.

Interested volunteers can call the American Cancer Society office at 814-226-7267 or toll-free at 800-227-2345, or Ursula Albino at 814-938-7875 for more information about the program.

"(Road to Recovery) means a lot to me, because people need help, and if we can't help people, what good are we?" Joe said.