Drivers for Survivors is a Bay Area organization that helps to get cancer patients to and from their appointments. Started by Sherry Higgs, it is more than just a transportation service. It creates a community of patients, survivors, and people willing to help, and fosters real connections in an otherwise scary time. The inspiration for starting the organization, came from Sherry's own story of survival.
In February of 2010, Sherry was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. She had no major health issues before, and received a scan only 6 months prior, and yet her tumor had grown to a frightening size.
"I didn't really know what the outcome would be once I started to realize how serious it was. I just didn't know," She shared.
The medical team decided that she had 2 options: They could do nothing, but she would be dead within 6 months, or she could begin very aggressive treatment. She opted for the treatment, and was told she needed a biopsy within the next few weeks. "I would prefer if you could clear room for me now," she told them, and Sherry believes this may have been a key factor in her survival story. She says that too many people are complacent when their doctors tell them something. While it is okay at times, there are certain circumstances where you should be diligent and fight for what will benefit you the most.
She knew she had to tell those close to her, and everyone was affected in different ways. When she told her seven year-old daughter, she tried to handle the conversation in a playful manner. "I told her that I had to go through treatment and that I was sick, and the first thing she asked me was 'does that mean you get to wear wigs?!'" But cancer is scary. And in telling others, she saw how frightened many of them became.
"Throughout the process I saw things that were difficult and things that were beautiful. The whole process morphed into me thinking about empowerment. I wanted to lead by example... I believe cancer to be epidemic. I am not a doctor, and I don't want to come across as that, but it is a fair statement. Cancer is on the rise overall. I wanted to be able to show people that you can do something."
She asserted herself and started to ask questions. She wanted to tell stories, and found over 400 people to share theirs. "I hit some of the right hats, followed steps and did my homework," she said. She started to grow her idea with the help of interns and quickly finding an office thanks to a donor. She had her background in business to implement, and acquired mentors to help her improve her idea further. Everything happened so fast, Sherry said, "it was like someone dumped a puzzle in front of me already in place."
The result of all of this effort and inspiration, was Drivers for Survivors. It was created with the the modern, busy person in mind who still wants to help. "You can give one ride every 6 months , and that is making a difference," Sherry encouraged. Going through chemo makes it impossible to be around large crowds of people like those you experience on public transit. After experiencing her own breakdown in her car after her diagnosis appointment, she made a commitment to herself that no one in her community would have to go through cancer alone. From her own journey through chemo, radiation, multiple surgeries, follow ups, reconstruction, and more, she realized how important the reactions of those around you are. "That companionship element comes to mind when you think of diagnosis, breakdowns and dealing with it," Sherry emphasized, "It is startling when you are sucker punched by things like cancer." The thing they are known to say about their service is that it truly is priceless. Cancer happened for Sherry when she was vivacious, three days away from a new career. Getting sick was the most stressful moment of her life, and stress kills. She knew that creating an organization like Drivers for Survivors would help to eliminate stress. They call to check in with drivers and patients ahead of time, putting everyone at ease. The organization also matches drivers and passengers up with common interests, further relieving stress and encouraging lasting connections.
She knew from the beginning that this was something special, "it was a gut feeling: it will be bigger," she shared. A lot of the organization's success she attributes to allowing people to do what they do best. Everyone has their strengths, and promoting that allows special things to happen. Another factor of their success, she said proudly, was social media. Through various platforms, she was able to ask the community questions, take assessments, and share milestones.
As of now, they have over 120 volunteers, they have helped 223 patients, traveled to 76 medical locations (both major and minor), and they are soon approaching 8,000 rides! As of now, Drivers for Survivors operates within 60 miles in any direction from headquarters. Soon, they hope to expand this range by becoming automated, allowing for expansion and modernization. They have had a 95% excellent rating from both drivers and passengers. This speaks volumes to the fact that they are a premier service; a business that leads with the heart. "My heart speaks loud," Sherry said, "No matter what happens, no matter what traumas, no matter all of the life experiences, I refuse to let my heart get jaded. And we all have that choice."
"Many of the passengers want to stay friends with these drivers for the rest of their lives. You think of them as your heroes. Drivers for survivors pulls the heartstrings of everyone involved. "Not only are they doing work, but the work has meaning. They made that really horrible time have a purpose."