By Maria José Subiria
Locust Grove resident Bob Langley hits the road around 7:30 a.m., to begin his day of picking up cancer patients across the Southern Crescent, and driving them to treatment centers -- five days a week.
The 76-year-old is the only full-time volunteer for the "Road to Recovery Program" of the South Atlantic Division of the American Cancer Society, says the cancer society's Lisa Cockerham.
Langley's list of patient trips resembles that of a country doctor, who makes house calls. He has logged nearly one million miles of cancer-patient pick-ups in Butts, Clayton, Coweta, Henry, Fayette, Fulton and Spalding counties since he began volunteering for the "Road to Recovery Program" in 1993.
He is on his third car -- the 2006, light blue Chevy Impala, after wearing out a Buick and the previous Chevrolet. He says he usually commits between 10 and 12 hours of his day to the program, and drives almost 200 miles each day.
"It is just that urge to do whatever I can for those that need help," he said. "I just meet the brightest people in this world," he said, explaining why he enjoys helping cancer patients get to their treatment centers.
Helping others his mission
During a recent trip to the City of Riverdale, Langley picked up patients from the cities of McDonough, Stockbridge and Riverdale. Norma Bozeman, a McDonough resident, said she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2006. When she first heard the news from her doctor, she said she was calm, and didn't panic.
"It was more like I expected it, because of what was going on with me," Bozeman said during her ride, with Langley, to Infectious Disease Associates in Riverdale.
Bozeman said the symptoms she felt were pains on the right side of her lower back and her legs. She continues to have a positive attitude and takes life one day at a time, however, and said she is currently being treated for an infection in a port that was surgically implanted in her chest, so she could receive chemotherapy.
Bozeman, 63, said she started using the "Road to Recovery Program" in May of 2008, because she felt safer if someone drove her to, and from, her treatments, rather than driving by herself. "Well, let me see now, he is awesome," said Bozeman, about Langley. "He is a blessing. He really and truly is a blessing."
When asked where she manages to find a positive outlook, given her situation, Bozeman responded, "From the heart, straight from my heart. You put it in my heart," Bozeman told Langley, as she put her hand on her chest.
Patients get more than just a ride
Ten minutes into the ride, Langley drove into an apartment complex in Riverdale.
As he drove up to a particular building, Barbara Jerkins was standing outside her door waiting. Jerkins slowly, and carefully, went down a couple of steps, leaning on her cane to reach Langley's Chevy Impala. Langley stepped out of his car to help Jerkins into his vehicle.
Explaining why she had such difficulty walking, Jerkins said she was involved in a severe car accident in 2006, in which both of her ankles were crushed. "I hit a pole and blacked out," she said. In May of 2009, she said, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She opened up about her journey in trying to defeat the disease. "I had already been in a car wreck in 2006, and then, I had to hear about this [breast cancer]," she said sadly.
When asked what she thought of Langley, her sadness gave way to a smile. "Oh, he keeps things going. He keeps your spirit up," she said. "If you have no spirit, you'll have one by the time you ride with him."
Jerkins said that she recently completed her radiation treatments, and was going to the Institute of Radiation Therapy, in Riverdale, for a follow-up.
Bob Langley's motivation
During the drive, Langley shared the story of what led him to volunteer, full-time, for the "Road to Recovery Program."
"You see, the people I deal with, they are the best people in the world," he said. "They are just really super-good people." Then, he said that his first wife died in a car accident. He survived the crash with severe injuries, including a collapsed lung, and a broken nose. The cause of the accident was a young, careless driver, he said.
He said his second wife was a teacher at Lee Street Elementary School in Jonesboro, who frequently smoked. She made it a routine to have a physical, and passed with flying colors every year, he said. However, when students left for Christmas break, in 1991, his wife wasn't feeling well, and went to the doctor. The doctor told her she had pneumonia.
He said his wife went back to the doctor for a follow-up on Jan. 17, 1992, and X-rays revealed a dark spot on one of her lungs, indicating lung cancer. She only had a short time to live, if it were not treated.
"We had so much help when she was sick, from family, co-workers and friends," said Langley. He said his wife decided to get treatment, but she also wanted to put her affairs in order, including leaving Langley her retirement money, before she passed away. She died on May 17, 1992, he said.
"That was devastating for me. That was the second wife I lost," he said.
Langley said he made a promise to God that as long as he is physically able, he will help people with cancer with the money his wife left him. His wife's retirement money, he said, allows him to maintain his car, so he can provide a source of transportation to cancer patients across the Southern Crescent.
"I thought, what better use could I put her money to, than to use it to help people that had cancer," he said. "I can live out of my own retirement money, but I couldn't do this [volunteer full-time for the program] without hers."
Recognition of his dedication
Later, while waiting for Shirley Brookman, of Stockbridge, to finish her breast-cancer treatment at the Institute of Radiation Therapy, a reporter spotted a picture by the window of the receptionist's desk. It was a photo of Langley smiling brightly, while shaking hands with former President George W. Bush, in front of Air Force One.
Langley said the picture was taken in March of 2003, at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta. White House officials had contacted the South Atlantic Division of the American Cancer Society, he said, because President Bush wanted to meet Langley, in person. When Langley arrived at the base, there were several people lined up to see Bush.
Langley said a White House official approached him, and said President Bush wanted to meet him individually. After meeting the president, he said the official approached him once more, and gave him a gift of gold cufflinks, with Bush's name engraved on them.
In March of 2009, Langley said he was contacted by NBC Nightly News, because the show wanted to do a report about his contributions to the "Road to Recovery Program," during the economic recession. The segment, he said, was entitled, "What's Right About America -- A day in the life."
As Langley was finishing the story about the TV segment, Brookman, the Stockbridge cancer patient, had finished her treatment for the day, and was ready for Langley to take her home. She began to explain why she needed help getting to her appointments. "I didn't have anybody else, and my daughter has to work. She works across town," said Brookman. "I don't know how I would've made it without him," she said, referring to Langley.
Brookman said undergoing radiation treatments for breast cancer is difficult, because treatments are five days a week. "It's like a job," said the 71-year-old. "I've never been sick very much in my whole life. It was very rough for me. I always took care of my family for years ... with no help from anybody."
She said she is fortunate to have Langley in her life, because without him, it would have been difficult to make it to the treatment center. "You can't depend on friends, and ask them to take you five days week, it's just too much," she said.
More inspiration close to home
While driving Brookman home, Langley shared just how much breast cancer has touched his life. He said his daughter, who is a school teacher in Morrow, was diagnosed with breast cancer, during its earliest stages. The 45-year-old is currently receiving chemotherapy, he said.
"I've never had cancer, but I can relate to the personal aspect of it," Langley said. He said
that, since he made a promise to God, and started volunteering for the program, he has never become sick with any disease, or illness. "It is just a whole host of things," said Langley, about his feelings toward volunteering for the program. "I don't know how to describe it. It is just a good feeling."