Volunteer fills his time, fulfills his need to give back

Golfer links cancer patients with life-saving treatment in 2 states
By Dan Aznoff | Sep 06, 2018
Photo by: Dan Aznoff Volunteer Ron Siggs stands alongside Jerri Wood, program manager for the Mission Delivery program through the American Cancer Society that pairs drivers with patients who need transportation to oncology centers for radiation or chemotherapy. Siggs balances his volunteer efforts with time on the links at the Mill Creek Country Club.

Part-time Mill Creek resident Ron Siggs talks in terms of golf in every aspect of his busy life. When he is not on the course at the Mill Creek Country Club, he does his best to help the American Cancer Society break par.

Par for the nonprofit organization is having enough drivers to transport cancer patients to treatment centers where they can receive radiation or chemotherapy to battle the deadly disease.

Siggs provides transportation four days every week through the Road to Recovery program, but tries to reserve his Friday for golf.

“If they really need me, I am available to drive on Fridays, too.”

The Road to Recovery program has provided rides for more than 650 cancer patients so far this year, but has been forced to turn down 633 other requests over the same time period for lack of drivers, according to Jerri Wood, program manager for the Mission Delivery program through the American Cancer Society.

“There would be plenty of drivers if people knew how rewarding it is to provide this essential service,” Siggs told The Beacon. “Without enough volunteers, patients are forced to hire a taxi or take a bus.

“Can you imagine riding home on a bus after undergoing chemo? That would be a nightmare.”

He added that he has spoken to many of his friends at the Mill Creek Country Club about volunteering a few hours every week, but only a handful of his fellow golfers have followed through.

“They may not realize the opportunity they are missing,” he said. “I get much more joy and satisfaction from the few minutes we have together in my car than just words of thanks.

“They are all grateful. Extremely grateful.”

Siggs usually waits for patients he drops off because they are at the medical facility for a specific amount of time. Chemo patients need to be picked up anywhere from two to several hours later, depending on what other tests may be needed.

“The program allows me to make my own schedule,” Siggs said. “There are times when I can drop a patient off for chemo and still get in a few holes before I have to get back.”

Wood said the unpredictability of chemotherapy often forces the ride program to recruit separate drivers to take the patient home. The door-to-door service in Snohomish County began 18 years ago and is available 24/7.

She added that many of the cancer patients have said how much they enjoy the drive—and the conversation—with a man. She said male drivers are usually not afraid to offer an opinion on a controversial subject, which can lead to stimulating conversation.

“Education is the major part of what we try to provide to patients,” Wood said. “In addition to transportation, we also offer free lodging for patients who come to Seattle from out of town and free wigs for patients who lose their hair after chemotherapy.”

Because of his passion for golf, Siggs is only available to provide rides to cancer patients in Snohomish County for six months of the year. During the winter he drives patients near his second home in Tucson. He estimates that he has provided more than 700 rides since he signed up to volunteer in 2006.

“The patients are always grateful and extremely talkative,” he said. “Almost everybody who sits in my passenger seat wants to tell me about their own fight with cancer. They also want to know all about me.

“It is the people who make this opportunity to volunteer something that I look forward to every week.”

The cancer patients he drives in Washington and Arizona share many of the same fears. The patients in Arizona are generally older, Siggs said, but they all believe that the treatments are the best way to extend their lives.

He said his passengers often want to talk about sports and are never shy about sharing their political views on an issue or an individual politician.

The fact that he is not a medical professional has not stopped some of his passengers asking his advice regarding their care. The only advice he will offer to patients is that it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion, but stops short of recommending one doctor or one medical center over another.

In addition to driving patients with cancer, the former art dealer also drives people to Bothell Plaza for dialysis. He said drivers are given training in first aid, but he has only been forced to return to the oncology center a few times to deal with reactions from the medication.

He talks fondly about one patient from the Philippines who flew to Washington for cancer treatment at Fred Hutchinson in Seattle.

“We had some trouble communicating at first,” he said. “But we were able to get our message across through broken English and a lot of sign language.”

For more information about receiving or providing rides through the Road to Recovery program, contact Jerri Wood at 425-404-2199 or jerri.wood@cancer.org.

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