Above: In 2016, Cancer Connect won the ‘Overall Mayors Award’ for County Cork. Helen O’Driscoll pictured seated at the front right.
Cancer Connect based in Bantry is a vital support for the many people from West Cork who avail of its service to get to Cork for radiotherapy or chemotherapy treatment.
In operation since 2011, the free and confidential service runs five days a week to Cork hospitals and could not operate without its team of volunteer drivers.
Cancer Connect has charitable status and is managed by Local Link Cork, a non-profit, independent transport company. To date, over 11,500 passenger journeys have been recorded.
Depending on the demand, on average we have about 40 passengers a week,” says Helen O’Driscoll, Cancer Connect co-ordinator. “At our busiest, we had 15 vehicles travelling up to Cork on one day.
“When you’re receiving a diagnosis of cancer, transport is such a small insignificant thing, but it is a massive drawback if someone doesn’t have it,” says Helen, who emphasises that the service is operated entirely by volunteer drivers. “We have 260 drivers on board and the service has recently expanded to North Cork,” she says.
“We don’t want to see anyone stuck for transport ever. If we get a phonecall, we’ll figure it out and we can only do that because of our volunteers.”
Helen vividly recalls the first passenger to use the chemotherapy transport service. “She was an older lady, who had been travelling to a Cork Hospital once a week for five years. Hail, rain or snow, every Friday morning, she travelled up on the CIE bus, walked from Western Road to the Bon Secours, had her treatment and walked back again with swollen legs at the end of day, to get on a bus with students going home for the weekend. It was a nightmare for her. She heard about the service, called us and she cried on the phone when we said we could help her.,” recalls Helen.
“Within minutes we had a team of drivers lined up to pick her up at her door every Friday.
Donal Kelly, a farmer near Dursey Island, lost his wife and two brothers to cancer. He is one of the volunteer drivers for Cancer Connect. “It is very fulfilling work and I love it,” says Donal. It’s marvellous to be able to help people.”
Retired guard Pat Finn from Clonakilty is also one of the many volunteer drivers. He feels it’s an honour to be able to drive people to their treatment in Cork. “If I’m available at all, I’ll make the trip,” he says. “If we can take some of the stress off the patient and his or her family, we will,” he says. “It can be a long day, so we often stop en route if the passenger needs to get something to eat.”
“The whole service is based on kindness and goodwill. The drivers look after these people like they would their own family,” says Helen.
Susan O’Donovan explains the difference that the Cancer Connect service made to her family. “Cancer Connect stepped into our lives in 2015, a year or so after our son Sam was diagnosed with Leukaemia. Part of Sam’s treatment required a blood sample to be drawn weekly, a task I was trained to do from the comfort of our home. In theory, passing this responsibility to the parent was to save the family any added unnecessary time on the road and in the hospital but the fact remained the little bottle containing our son’s blood sample still needed to get to the labs in the Mercy Hospital.
“Our community liaison nurse suggested we contact Cancer Connect.
“I can remember so vividly our trip to Bantry that afternoon, Sam and his older brother Rory in tow. We met with Jack and within minutes a burden had been lifted. The anxiety of parking at the Mercy Hospital, a nightmare at the best of times, childcare, fuel, just the time in itself saved by not needing to travel up the road and home again, was all taken care of. The Little Bantry Bus, as my boys call it, gave us back our Monday’s…eased the pressure on what was often very stressful times.
“Just last month we returned to the little office in Bantry to say thank you in person to Jack and Helen, Steve and the amazing crew of drivers who are Cancer Connect.
“Sam no longer needs his blood sample collected and dropped to Cork, that part of his treatment has finished. An emotional visit. Filled with gratitude and love for people who came into our lives when we needed them most. I will remember their kindness, positivity and support for ever more.”
The Cancer Connect radiotherapy service leaves Skibbereen and Bantry areas each morning at 10am and returns each afternoon. The hospital accommodates those people travelling with Cancer Connect to be seen each day between 12 noon and 1.30pm for radiotherapy appointments.
People requiring chemotherapy or related treatments such as doctor’s appointments, scans, blood test etc are taken to Cork by car, as their appointments can vary and may necessitate a number of visits, often to different hospital locations, within one trip.
In 2016, Cancer Connect won the ‘Overall Mayors Award’ for County Cork.
Cancer Connect is totally dependent on voluntary contributions and donations and survives solely because of the generosity if the West Cork community.
Contact Helen O’Driscoll, Cancer Connect on 027 52727 or 087 1224404 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.