YES! Story: The Driver - Volunteer helps patients get to treatment

Published on Wednesday, 23 October 2013 22:13 - Written by By Betty Waters blw@tylerpaper.com

East Texan Linda Sartor has made more than 600 trips and driven about 16,800 miles during her seven-year span of transporting cancer patients to and from cancer centers for treatment.

Ms. Sartor became a volunteer driver in August 2006 in the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program. Volunteers in the program go to patients’ homes, pick them up, take them to treatment and then back home. It is one of many services that the American Cancer Society offers cancer patients.

After retiring from a 30-year teaching career in Longview, Kilgore and West Rusk ISD, Ms. Sartor turned to volunteering in a big way, choosing to mostly drive cancer patients.

“It was just one thing that kind of touched my heart,” Ms. Sartor said, because several relatives in her husband’s family and several people in the church she attends have had cancer.

“I thought this is one thing I can do to help someone with that illness … This is a way I can do some service and give back to the community,” Ms. Sartor said.

She was one of three people from Kilgore who underwent training when she started driving. “It involved going over road rules like a refresher course in driver education because they wanted you to have safe driving skills,” Ms. Sartor recalled recently.

“Then they talked to us about what cancer patients would go through when they had radiation or chemotherapy. We were (told) how to take care of them if they were not feeling well on their trip home after their treatment and we were given an emergency kit to put in the car (that included) a bag in case they were sick at their stomach.”

Before the volunteers could start driving for the cancer society, they first underwent a background check and a check of their driving record.

Since then, Ms. Sartor has given of her time and used her own car and money for gasoline to routinely drive as many as five trips a week transporting cancer patients to cancer centers in Tyler or Longview.

She has driven almost 1,600 miles in a month.

A resident of Kilgore, Ms. Sartor has driven to pick up patients in places like Hawkins, Henderson and as far away as New Diana, Marshall and Jefferson. The cancer society’s Tyler office furnishes her information about which patients need transportation and when.

She turns in a driver’s transportation log at the end of each month to the cancer society in Tyler.

“It’s a way I can donate … that’s just something I can do to help someone else,” Ms. Sartor said.

“When you are with those patients, sometimes I get more in return than what I feel like I’m giving. Every patient I’ve ever driven had a positive attitude and a great outlook on what they are having to deal with in life,” Ms. Sartor said. “It’s just a joy to be around those people.”

The cancer patients are “always very, very grateful” for being taken for treatment, Ms. Sartor said.

Sometimes they ask if she gets paid. “I say, ‘No. I’m a volunteer, and I do this because I can. God has given me that ability,’” Ms. Sartor said.

Most cancer patients she drives do not have family members or friends available to take them. In one case, Ms. Sartor said, a patient’s daughter had taken off from work as much as she could, and her grandson had driven her in the summer but then gone off to college.

When Ms. Sartor takes patients for radiation, which usually last 15 to 30 minutes, she sits in the car and or on a hot day goes inside to wait. But chemotherapy can last many hours, and on those trips, she might go back home to do chores or run errands while the patient receives treatment.

At last count, she had donated more than 765 hours driving 31 different cancer patients.

“Being with someone with a positive attitude and thankfulness is just a blessing, and it gives you a better outlook on life,” Ms. Sartor said.

“I get the pleasure of knowing that I’ve met someone new. I get the pleasure of knowing that they were able to get to treatment, and possibly that treatment is going to put them in remission and they are going to have many more birthdays to come and they will be able to spend more time with their family.”

Ms. Sartor also gives other volunteer service, including answering the phone at Kilgore First Presbyterian Church on Tuesday afternoons, serving on a Presbytery committee, helping in a community feeding program, working in Rotary Club projects, knitting for a prayer shawl ministry and visiting a 105-year-old nursing home resident for at least an hour almost every day.