00:00 Saturday 24 March 2012  Written by Ailin Quinlan

Service reduces cancer patients travel worries

THREE hundred road trips by 120 volunteers driving 160 cancer patients some 50,000 kilometres - some achievement for a volunteer transport service which has yet to celebrate its first anniversary.

Cancer Connect officially hit the road on April 6th, 2011, providing a free transport service for cancer patients from their homes in West Cork to treatment in a variety of Cork city hospitals.

The now hugely popular service this year provided 1,500 passenger journeys via two people-carriers and a fleet of driver-owned cars which drive cancer patients to radiotherapy or chemotherapy appointments in the city. Radiotherapy patients are transported to Cork and back in the people-carriers. These travel two separate routes daily - Goleen-Skibbereen-Cork or Castletownbere-Bantry-Cork.

Service coordinator Helen O'Driscoll explains: 'Someone going for radiotherapy once a day for up to seven weeks will use this mode of transport because it's suitable for radiotherapy patients whose treatment is tightly scheduled.'

Other drivers take their own cars and bring passengers who are receiving chemotherapy or attending related appointments.

Drivers range in age from people in their 20s to retired people in their 70s and come from a variety of backgrounds, she explains.

'We have everyone from housewives to retirees to professional people who take time off work to do this,' she said, adding that patients and drivers come from all over the region.

Although drivers who use their own vehicles to transport patients receive a contribution towards expenses, the service, which is run under the aegis of the West Cork Rural Transport Scheme, is very much a goodwill gesture on the part of volunteers, says O'Driscoll.

It makes a huge difference to the lives of the passengers: 'This service takes out the element of having to organise transport. It removes that worry and lets patients focus on their health.

'If it wasn't for Cancer Connect, some people would have to travel on public transport and this would not suit for a variety of reasons, including time and comfort,' she said.

'We are told by the hospital that many patients feel tired after radiotherapy while chemotherapy patients could feel nauseous and tired. Imagine having to travel home on public transport for up to two hours after receiving that treatment.

This is not about money but about general difficulties of getting to the hospital.'

Ms O'Driscoll said the scheme had attracted an immense goodwill since its inception, with a continuous stream of fundraising - the service cost an estimated €50,000 in its first year.

Donations to Cancer Connect can be lodged at the Permanent TSB in Skibbereen, A/C 1891 3905, sort code 99 07 17.

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