CEOs Against Cancer Florida Chapter launches ‘Rides Of Hope’ initiative

They drove.

Before the sun rose, they drove north over the rolling horse farms of Marion County, through the savannah grasses of Paynes Prairie and then west across the seven hills surrounding Tallahassee.

They drove.

In the glare of the midday, they drove through the monotonous, tree-lined curves of the Florida Panhandle, across the Perdido River and into Alabama. They drove past the inviting Gulf Shores of Pascagoula and Biloxi, around Lake Pontchartrain and into Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Lake Charles as the sun set.

They drove.

In all, they traversed 999 miles from St. Petersburg to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston because their friend and their leader, Dave Serlo, needed a ride. They made the 14-hour, 40-minute trek because they know every cancer patient needs a guide on the road to recovery, they know every friend needs an infusion of hope.

Doctors would not let Serlo, then the PSCU chief executive officer, board a plane. So, senior members at PSCU, a credit union service organization, saddled up, drove to Houston and brought Serlo back to surprise employees at an executive team meeting.

Serlo succumbed to cancer in 2010, less than a year after he made his surprise appearance at that meeting. But the spirit of camaraderie he infused in PSCU as its first employee remains an integral part of the company under current CEO Chuck Fagan.

“Our culture is very much mirrored by what Dave built,” Fagan said. “You know if you still talk to anybody who’s been in our industry for a while. They very much know Dave Serlo and what he accomplished here.”

As a member of the American Cancer Society’s CEOs Against Cancer Florida Chapter, Fagan now wants to amplify the culture of care that inspired Serlo’s friends to make that drive to Houston. As Fagan notes, everyday people right here in Tampa Bay need a ride — not a 999-mile ride — but a simpler delivery from a patient’s home to a doctor’s office to receive treatment.

That’s why Fagan and CEOs Against Cancer board chair Roy Hellwege launched Rides of Hope Tuesday, a new initiative for CEOs Against Cancer that aims to improve access to care for patients. By boosting the Society’s Road To Recovery Program, which provides free rides to treatment, people on a cancer journey can focus on what matters most: getting the care they need.

The initiative seeks to not only raise $500,000 for 15,000 new “Rides of Hope,” but it also wants to drive a national movement that will help knock down the barriers limiting access to care.

“As we began to talk about access to care and quantify the need right here in the Tampa Bay area, the need for 15,000 more rides is pretty clear,” said Hellwege, CEO of Pilot Bank. “There’s a need for outreach, for awareness. There’s a need to train individuals, there’s a need for companies to support ridership and there’s a financial need as well. I think I can speak for our group that we felt this was something that we could coalesce behind.”

The impact of the service cannot be underestimated. It’s so important for patients to follow the protocols prescribed by doctors. Missing just one treatment — whether it’s chemotherapy, radiation therapy or some other critical treatment — can derail the entire process.

The need is significant. With spouses of cancer patients having quickly exhausted vacation time, and relatives unable to get away from work, some find themselves looking to public transportation or simply giving up on appointments without the aid of the Society’s Road To Recovery Program. An estimated 3.6 million Americans delayed obtaining necessary medical care due to a lack of affordable and available transportation.

In 2018, the Society provided 28,000 cancer patients with 480,000 rides to and from treatment. Those numbers represented a 41 percent increase from 2017, and the numbers again rose in 2019, forcing ACS to go over budget in providing rides nationally and in the six-county region that makes up Tampa Bay: Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota.

While drivers volunteer their services, there are costs associated with the program, ranging from background checks to maintaining a system to take reservations and appoint drivers. However, the costs, estimated to be $50 for each ride, should not be a barrier to survival.

“No one should die from this disease because they can’t get access to treatment,” said Sarah Glenz, the American Cancer Society’s senior director for mission recovery. “And I know this seems obvious, but research has proven that if somebody is able to start and complete their course of treatment that the doctor prescribes uninterrupted — there are a lot of people who don’t have that opportunity — but if they’re able to complete it as scheduled, it leads to better health outcomes.”

Not only does the CEOs Against Cancer board think it can coalesce behind this effort, it believes it can help the initiative become a national movement. It’s last initiative, Fit 2 Be Cancer Free, rose from the Tampa Bay area to become a national step-tracking challenge for the Society. And a national fundraiser.

“It’s not insurmountable,” said Bridgette Bello, CEO and Publisher of Tampa Bay Business & Wealth and a breast cancer survivor. “And to me, it’s unconscionable to think somebody can’t get treatment because they can’t get a ride. It makes me almost cry every time we talk about it.

“So, we are hoping that people will help us fund these 15,000 rides by the end of 2020 and that we can encourage and challenge the rest of the state to do the same and then take it national.”

This statewide “Rides of Hope” challenge will feature a live leaderboard that will track participants’ progress on charity.gofundme.com/ridesofhopeflorida. To help, you can invite other business and community leaders in your network to participate and donate. Employees can volunteer as drivers or participate in a company challenge.

In the final assessment, patients are clearly counting on the community to drive the mission to new heights.

“I don’t think that just because we don’t see it, we can pretend that doesn’t happen every single day,” said Chappell Roberts CEO and breast cancer survivor Colleen Chappell. “Anything we can do in this regard, to not only change the lives of those who need a ride but create a national movement, is so important.

“We need all of us saying, ‘This is just wrong.’ If someone needs a ride and let’s get them the ride they need. It shouldn’t be a death sentence.”

For more information, contact ACS senior corporate relations director Kim Staczek at [email protected], or call Kim at (813) 349-4407.

Cutline: PSCU chief executive officer Chuck Fagan speaks at a recent CEOs Against Cancer Florida chapter meeting. Looking on are Colleen Chappell and Jim Marshall.

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