“They gave me the papers and told me to go home and make my funeral arrangements; they gave me a booklet to pick out what coffin I wanted. What kind of flowers. What songs.
“They had counted me out, but I refused to give up.”
That’s what Pam McLurkin of Portsmouth said doctors told her seven years ago in her battle with stage 4 breast cancer. McLurkin, now 61, has since attended the wedding of a daughter and cradled in her arms a great-grandson, born seven months ago.
His name is Logan.
“Yes, and sometime I take care of him, and he’s a piece of work,” she said, filled with joy and pride.
McLurkin is still living with stage 4 breast cancer. Aside from the disease, her life is made challenging by a lack of dependable transportation for her medical treatments.
“At first my brother was taking me, my nephew, friends, whoever I could get,” McLurkin said. “I was paying different ones, but I couldn’t afford it, borrowing money and everything.
“A lot of times I wasn’t able to find a ride and had to cancel my appointment.”
Since 2014, McLurkin has been on the ride list at Lee’s Friends, a free Norfolk-based medical transportation service for cancer patients in South Hampton Roads. She had used several Medicaid transports, including cabbies, she said. She found Lee’s Friends to be her best option, but challenges still exist because the organization needs additional drivers.
“They are a great service; the people that pick you up are really nice,” McLurkin said. “They pick you up and take you to anything dealing with your cancer, but you have to call two or three weeks ahead of time. If you don’t call ahead, you don’t get a ride.”
Susan Lawler, patient and volunteer coordinator at Lee's Friends, said the tolls have become a problem, and it is hard to find drivers willing to go back and forth to Portsmouth.
"I have people who will do it, but taking two people to radiation every day for up to 35 to 60 days – that can be a lot.”
Lee’s Friends depends heavily on volunteer drivers who use their own vehicles, pay their own expenses and choose when they want to work, said Carol Olsen, the organization's director. The agency has two vehicles with assigned E-ZPass transponders, and fuel is provided.
Whenever a run is scheduled from Portsmouth, efforts are made to assign an agency vehicle to the driver, she said, but when demand is heavy, some patients get left out.
“It’s hard for us to ask our drivers, using their own vehicles to go through the tunnel and incur costs beyond that of gas, and sometimes our Portsmouth friends are left high and dry,” Olsen said. “It’s very heartbreaking when we have to turn people down, but sometime we just have to tell them, ‘We don’t have ’em. Can’t do it.’ ”
Lee’s Friends, a 501(c)(3), has three part-time paid workers, Olsen said. Its annual operating budget is about $200,000. An endowment helps pay some costs but not all, she said.
Donations from businesses, individuals, estate gifts and memorial contributions must make up the difference, Olsen said. In addition, the group organizes several annual fundraisers, including the recently held 15th annual Lee’s Friends Run on the Wild Side.
The agency is named in memory of Lee Harkins, a 16-year-old cancer patient who in 1978 formed an organization with family and friends to offer cancer patients like herself free transportation to treatment and support services, Olsen said.
Harkins died in May 1978, and her mother, Emily S. Harkins Filer, set-up Lee’s Friends’ foundation to fulfill her daughter’s vision, according to www.leesfriends.org. Harkins Filer served as Lee's Friends' executive director until 2001. Lee’s Friends celebrates its 40th anniversary in March.
Included in the organization’s services is its one-on-one counseling and support programs for patients and their families, Olsen said. “Sometimes a stranger with great compassion and empathy” can better offer counseling services than a family member, she said.
Lee’s Friends has about 80 people on call as counselors, Olsen said. Since the early 1980s, the organization has been awarded a number of national, state, local and civic awards, including a 1982 President’s Volunteer Action Award.
It took McLurkin about two hours to complete her chemotherapy. Her Lee’s Friends driver didn’t have another pickup and waited for her. On completion, McLurkin started making arrangements through the agency for her next scheduled treatment in about a month.
“Transportation can be really lifesaving,” Olsen said, adding that drivers and, of course, donations are critical needs. “We turn down people every day because we don’t have the drivers. But as long as they need rides, and they’re battling their disease we’ll help them.”
For more information, including pickups, donations or how to volunteer, visit www.leesfriends.org or call 757-440-7501.
Source : https://pilotonline.com/news/local/health/article_21ffefb4-c026-11e8-af82-efc432b2546c.html898