After 52 years of marriage, Bob and Vinnie Murphy laugh a lot, finish each other’s sentences and do a lot of things together. One of those things is driving cancer patients to medical appointments.
They’ve been doing this for 16 years and feel fortunate to be able to provide the service.
The Endicott couple drives as part of the American Cancer Society’s “Road to Recovery” program that provides free transportation to and from treatment for cancer patients who don’t have rides or are unable to drive themselves.
They drive as a team in a 2004 Dodge van picking up patients from as far away as Deposit, Whitney Point and Maine. They’ve long ago lost track of the number of trips, and the number of miles, they’ve driven over the years.
“The best thing is the good feeling you get when you look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m doing something good,’” Bob Murphy said.
Thirteen Road to Recovery volunteers now drive in Broome County, using their own cars. Another two drive in Tioga County. Statewide, volunteers made 6,824 trips in 2014, according to the American Cancer Society.
“For the most part, families take patients, but sometimes they can’t take time off from work, or someone doesn’t have family in the area. They can then call the cancer society, and we make it happen,” said Kim McMahon, senior consultant in organizational communications with the American Cancer Society.
Bob Murphy had the idea of volunteering after retiring from a 32-year career as a staff security analyst with IBM. He had played a lot of golf, and worked a couple of part-time jobs before “I started really needing to give back, rather than just think about myself,” he said.
Murphy saw an article in the newspaper about the American Cancer Society needing volunteers and approached his wife with the idea.
Vinnie, 71, admits she didn’t exactly greet the suggestion with open arms. “My reservations were that this could really be depressing. This could really bring you down,” she said.
But the couple’s first patient, a man they call Martin, put that feeling to rest. “He was a wonderful, wonderful man. We’d talk about everything,” Vinnie Murphy said.
“I told him, ‘It’s your fault we’re continuing,’” she added, with a laugh. “If he had been a nasty old patient, we wouldn’t have continued.”
The Murphys can honestly say they’ve never driven anyone who’s fit the “nasty” category. Far from it. Rather than being depressed, the couple is always impressed by the friendliness and upbeat nature of the patients even as they face a difficult disease and the tough regime of treatment.
“A couple have been quiet, but most people are outgoing,” Vinnie said. They’ve remained friends with some patients, including a 92-year-old woman they now do errands for on their own.
As for themselves, both of the Murphys‘ lives have been touched by cancer. Bob underwent radiation treatment for prostate cancer. Vinnie’s mother and father died of the disease, and her sister is a cancer survivor.
While the rides are important, it’s just as important to provide companionship and moral support to patients, they believe. “We want to bring a little sunshine by listening to them, bantering with them and being sociable,” Bob Murphy said.
The Murphys are outstanding volunteers and the cancer society is lucky to have them, said Stephanie D’Amico, patient and family services manager for the Central New York Region. “They’re always compassionate, caring and willing to help,” she said.
Before beginning to drive, the couple attended a training session that focused on things to do and not do. A big “don’t” is not to bring up cancer unless a patient wants to talk,
Most people want to talk, however, Bob Murphy said. “You almost get the feeling they need someone to talk to,” he added
Over the years, the Murphys have transported both young and old patients. They can go two or three months without an assignment. Other times they find themselves driving patients once or twice a week.
The most difficult thing is when patients die, they said. That’s what happened to Martin.
“We’ve had many people pass away. It’s like losing a friend, especially people you’ve driven for quite awhile,” Vinnie Murphy said. But good memories remain, along with the feeling of providing a service.
“We enjoy it and get a lot out of it,” Bob Murphy said.
Hometown: Johnson City
Education: Johnson City High School
Family: Three grown children, five grandchildren
Place of employment: Retired from IBM after 32 years
Outside interests: playing fiddle in a band, golfing and attending sports events
Education: Union-Endicott High School
Family: Same as Robert
Place of employment: Homemaker
Outside interests: Managing Bob’s band, visiting grandchildren and attending sports events.
American Cancer Society
Anyone interested in driving for the Road to Recovery program, or who needs a ride, can call (800) 277-2345.