Road to recovery volunteer driver Roger Yu, shares some first hand accounts of what it is like to help people get to treatment and some of the things he’s seen along the way. Learn more about Road to Recovery here.
My first Road-to-Recovery rider came from Kapa`a, Kauai. The husky male patient wore a well-used black t-shirt that advertised “Big City Diner” on its back. His black rubber slippers revealed less-than-pedicured feet and toenails. His cracked hands and chocolate skin told a tale of spending years in the hot tropical sun. Yet the look in his eyes was sparkly, alive and said he was “there” and ready for the challenge. I, too, am an optimist.
My next rider was a colorful counterpoint to the first. Frail, and in her September years, she wore a teal cable sweater, white bermuda shorts and a pair of well kept but also well used white sneakers. The impression she gave was a woman with a history filled with perhaps golf, autumn leaves and maybe mint juleps. She traced to Oahu from the remote and culturally-assorted (Hawaiian) Ocean View on the Big Island. I sensed that in this individualistic locale, she could live her own style of life.
Third was a quiet, non-English speaking Spanish woman confined to a wheelchair who, with her accompanying husband, lived a rural life on Molokai. They were staying, doubled down, at a relative’s already-crowded matchbox apartment in Makiki (on Oahu) for the duration of her treatment, which was to be chemotherapy for several months to come.
What these three patients all had in common was that they lived on the neighbor islands and needed vital cancer treatment on Oahu, the only place in our state that certain treatments are available. All were financially challenged, displaced from their own homes and struggling with the dark thoughts of facing a potentially fatal disease.
A critical mass of patients on the neighbor islands does not exist to justify the kind of equipment and expenditure on facilities to adequately deal with a disease as challenging as cancer. Even in Honolulu some of the newer, more exotic pieces of equipment need to be shared by institutions because there may not be the patient load at any given location to justify the purchase and upkeep of these machines. Creative cooperation like this, between medical institutions is a wonderful solution but underscores the scarcity of some treatments.
Traveling inter-island, even while on vacation, can be a time-consuming, arduous affair. Doing it for the sole purpose of meeting with a doctor about potentially devastating scan results, or having a surgical or other procedure to battle the disease’s progression is a lot to tolerate both physically and emotionally. That is why I concentrate my “Road to Recovery” volunteerism on neighbor island transfers because I feel these patients have to go through so much just to get to the “starting line,” that is making it, on time, to an important appointment on Oahu. Perhaps it is my own family experience with cancer that sensitizes me to their demanding journeys, but that story is for another post.