Cancer patients often have many concerns. A Florence non-profit believes getting to and from treatment should not be one of them.
For 32 years, the Friends of Florence van has been transporting cancer patients from Florence's Peace Harbor Hospital and surrounding communities to Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Research Center in Eugene and to Oregon Urology Institute in Springfield. The van service, offered free of charge to patients, was started by Florence resident P.T. Smith.
"P.T. brought his wife over for radiation treatments every day for six weeks back in 1985 and he thought, 'There's just got to be a better way,'" says WVCI's oncology care manager Gretchen Matsuoka.
Smith realized that other patients in similar situations would also benefit from alternative transportation, especially if they didn't have someone to drive them. He was determined to find a solution.
"So, he founded Friends of Florence," says Dan Clements, the nonprofit's chief operating officer, who began volunteering with the organization as a driver 17 years ago. "P.T. went to the bank, got a loan to buy a vehicle—which he repaid in 90 days—and we've been going strong ever since."
The Friends of Florence program is run entirely by volunteers, including its 24 drivers, and it's fully supported through donations—from maintenance for the nonprofit's two vans to insurance and fuel. But for patients who use the service, it's invaluable.
"It saves me gas money by not having to drive to Eugene every day," says Brian McConville who is undergoing daily radiation treatments at WVCI for stage II pancreatic cancer. "I get to listen to music, I get to read a book. It's just awesome to me that people are willing to give their time for this."
Patsy Grow, who is undergoing five weeks of radiation treatments for breast cancer, just started using the Friends of Florence van.
"It's really wonderful. We've had all good drivers, and they're just a great group to come over with," she says.
The van is stocked with hand-made quilts and bottled water to help make the drive more comfortable. Riders can read or rest, but often they talk, get to know each other and share information about coping with cancer.
"It's a comradery that really supports them in their treatment, like a little rolling support group," Matsuoka says.
Since the first trip to Eugene back in 1985, the Friends of Florence program has transported well over 30,000 patients, logging more than 1.3 million miles.