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Volunteers help patients on 'Road to Recovery'

February 06, 2008
Jeanie Melton has been cancer-free for 13 years, but she understands that others are still on their journey back to health. That's why Melton, after retiring last May, volunteered with the American Cancer Society to drive patients to their treatments.

It just so happened that the program coordinator for the ACS Jasper office, which serves six counties, including Crawford, was retiring. ACS officials asked Melton if she would be interested in taking over those duties, and she said yes.

Now, Melton's trying to get others to answer the call and become volunteer drivers with the ACS's Road to Recovery program.

"That's just a program that is so needed," Melton said. "I'm just so passionate about the ACS and the value it can bring to a cancer patient."

The Road to Recovery program currently has about 13 drivers within its six counties, but only one — Melton — in Crawford County. Another, Crawford County Relay for Life co-chair Jenny Lang, has been trained to be a driver, and another Crawford County resident has requested an application, Melton said. Still, she said, more are needed.

"Most of our drivers are in Jasper," she said.

Melton said that volunteers aren't relegated to driving patients from their county, but it makes things easier for the drivers, who don't receive compensation, since they wouldn't have to drive as far. For example, she said, when Dubois County drivers take Crawford County patients to medical appointments in Louisville, they drive an extra distance just to get to the patient.

"It's difficult to ask someone to do that," she said.

Melton, who lives at Milltown, noted that she has traveled to French Lick to take a patient to a treatment at Jasper, which makes for a 138-mile roundtrip. Fortunately, the program has volunteers who have been willing to do that, she said.

"If you're going to volunteer your time and your services and your efforts, you're going to do that," she said.

Most of the program's drivers are retired or work part time and have the flexibility to volunteer, Melton said. However, the program, she said, also works around the schedules of the drivers, who can tell her when they're available and when they're not.

"We schedule our drivers accordingly," she said.

Although drivers do not receive compensation, they are eligible for reimbursement of 14 cents per mile on their taxes, Melton said. Plus, the ACS office in Jasper has a van that is sometimes available to drivers, she said.

To become a volunteer driver, a person must complete an application, submit to a background check, have a good driving record and complete a simple, one-hour training session.

Drivers don't have to physically move patients, as all patients who participate in the program are required to be ambulatory, Melton said. The responsibility of drivers is simply to drive the patients back and forth to their treatments, she said.

Melton added that drivers are not allowed to give medical advice or to ask a patient about their condition — all patient information remains confidential with the ACS and isn't shared with the drivers — and they can't take patients to run non-treatment errands.

Drivers spend a lot of time with the patients and often become close, Melton said. The time together allows drivers to lift the spirits of the patients by simply listening and being a friend, she said.

"That part of the program is just as important to me," she said.

Program participants sometimes are older people or those who have become too sick to drive, Melton said. The program, she said, also helps patients struggling with high medical bills by giving them one less financial concern, she said.

Melton said the program doesn't have many Crawford County patients, but she believes that's because they don't know assistance is available.

"We want the cancer patients in Crawford County to know we are there for them and we will help them in any way," she said.

Besides Crawford County, drivers are desperately needed in Orange County, Melton said.

Patients who would like to sign up for the free Road to Recovery program should call the ACS Patient Resource Center 1-800-ACS-2345 or Melton at 633-4804. Persons who would like to volunteer as drivers can request an application from Melton.

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