Cancer Connect is a not-for-profit organisation with charitable status that provides free transport for persons attending Radiotherapy and Chemotherapy treatments, and other cancer treatment appointments, at County Cork hospitals. It currently has a team of 320 Voluntary drivers, many of whom have been with the organisation for ten years or more and have connected deeply with dozens of passengers along the way. Cancer Connect’s Manager, Helen O’Driscoll, told us:
“Obviously with cancer it’s the medical challenges. But in County Cork it definitely also includes transport challenges. People are up to two hours away from a hospital.”
While all drivers report volunteering as being hugely rewarding, due to the nature of the journey, and the one-to-one transport offered, it creates an environment conducive to speaking openly.
Drivers often experience passengers viewing them as a person outside their circle and therefore less emotionally involved with the treatment being received. Passengers frequently want to talk about their health and emotional state, particularly when feeling unwell and / or having just received terminal news. However, as driver Kevin Tomlinson said:
“You do have journeys where the patient is clearly very unwell. But it’s amazing how resilient and stoic an awful lot of the patients are.”
All too often drivers are left to cope on their own with the trauma of a passenger dying soon after a journey. As such, they often find themselves in vulnerable positions and privately grieving. It’s this trauma and disenfranchised grief that Helen wanted to lessen when she secured a Seed Grant for developing appropriate tools to enhance and reinforce coping skills.
“Driving passengers dealing with cancer can be rewarding. However, we are acutely aware it can also be emotional draining and very challenging.”
In conjunction with Arc Cancer Support House, Helen organised a series of informal meetings and facilitated conversations in different locations across Cork.
“These meetings offered our drivers a rare chance to share any difficult experiences and discuss ‘how’ to talk about cancer. They also included a strong focus on self-care and active listening.”
As a result, a buddy-system is now developing with drivers sharing phone numbers and further sessions are being planned. Drivers were also referred to our Compassionate Culture Networks operating in four locations across Munster.
Interviews with Cancer Connect drivers and Helen O’Driscoll can be watched below.
Read more about Cancer Connect.
Read more about Arc Cancer Support House.