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Posted August 17, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Volunteer drive

By Laetitia Clayton - lclayton@nvdaily.com

Millie Gill is not only a 24-year cancer survivor, she is someone who is determined to help others fight the disease, too.

The Woodstock resident has been a volunteer with the American Cancer Society for 23 years, and has been the driver coordinator for the society's Road to Recovery program in Shenandoah County for the past 20 years.

Road to Recovery provides rides for cancer patients who otherwise could not get to and from treatments.

"It's a very important program," Gill said. "And [the patients] are very appreciative."

However, the program relies on people like Gill to make it work, and Shenandoah County is in need of volunteers.

"I'm down to four drivers," Gill said, when she used to have as many as 20.

To help fill the need, the American Cancer Society will hold a training session for volunteer drivers from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday at the Holiday Inn Express in Woodstock.

Tim Grove, a senior community manager with the American Cancer Society based in Winchester, said the training is a way to help build up the program locally.

"Just to let people know about it and get some more drivers for Millie and her group," he said.

There are several standard things people need in order to volunteer, Grove said, including a valid driver's license and the ability to pass a criminal background check.

"But mostly it takes somebody that's just dedicated and has a vehicle that is reliable, and [someone who] has the time," he said.

During the training, volunteers will get an overview of several programs offered by the American Cancer Society, Grove said. In addition to Road to Recovery, there also is Reach to Recovery, for breast cancer survivors, and Look Good ... Feel Better, a community-based workshop that gives beauty tips to female cancer patients so they can feel good about how they look during chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Women learn about makeup, skin and nail care, and ways to deal with hair loss, such as wearing wigs or scarves. These programs are free for patients and are offered in communities across the nation, Grove said.

Road to Recovery has been around for years, he said, and is one of the society's core programs. It was started for people who either are too sick to drive or don't have family and friends nearby. And, even if a patient is physically able to drive, some can't afford the cost of gas, especially in this economy, he added.

"It's a real life-saving service," Grove said of Road to Recovery. "Some people may not go [to treatment] because they can't get there."

Gill said patients undergoing radiation usually have treatments for six weeks, or at least 30 days. For chemotherapy, it varies, she said.

But Grove and Gill both stressed that a volunteer does not have to commit to take a particular patient to every treatment.

"People can commit to one day a month or one day a week," Grove said. "It's not like we're asking for a total commitment."

For example, Gill said she might use several drivers to transport one patient for five days.

Patients who need a ride can call 800-ACS-2345 -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- and the call will be directed to the appropriate volunteer coordinator. In Shenandoah County's case, that person is Gill. She will then coordinate her drivers so that patient has a ride to and from treatment. Gill said she tries to give drivers notice the week before so they can be sure they are available. Most patients from Shenandoah County go to Winchester for treatments, but some go to Harrisonburg, she said.

"That's where they have the cancer centers," she said. "Shenandoah County doesn't have a cancer treatment center."

Gill said she needs more volunteers in the southern part of the county for those who do go to Harrisonburg.

Patients can sometimes take hours to finish a treatment, and drivers should go in and check when they drop someone off, she said. Gill advises drivers to take something along, such as a book, if they plan to wait. Some drivers run errands and others go back home to wait. One thing she assures patients is "We always guarantee you have a ride back home."

Grove said so far this year the program has provided 415 patients with almost 1,700 rides in the western Virginia region.

In Shenandoah County, the cancer society has exceeded the needs of patients as far as overall resources are concerned, he said. "We are serving the patients, but we always want to serve more."

Gill said volunteering is rewarding and a great way to give back.

"I got involved in the program because of the need of people to get to treatments," she said. "I thought, 'That's something I can do -- to get people there.'

"'Cause it can save a life."

For more information on becoming a Road to Recovery volunteer, including how to register for Thursday's training session, call 667-2315 or e-mail Grove at tim.grove@cancer.org. For more information on the American Cancer Society, call 800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.

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