eric diannaThree years ago, a fellow student in Eric Walker’s firefighting class mentioned that local cancer patients needed rides to treatment.

"Call the American Cancer Society for details", the student said.

Eric had a history of volunteering in the community. Volunteering just made him feel good.

Dianna Carlson lived in the same city, Petaluma, Calif., just a couple of miles from Eric. She was a 70-something cancer patient who was having trouble walking. It was hard to get to treatment. The logistics of the bus trips turned a 15-minute doctor visit into a 3-hour ordeal. And it cost her money she didn’t really have.

Eric, then a firefighter with CAL Fire (he’s now with the San Jose Fire Department), called us for details on volunteering. About the same time, Dianna spotted a notice in the local senior citizens paper about free door-to-door rides to treatment from the American Cancer Society. Following its instructions, she, too, called us.

And we connected them. Ever since, Eric has driven Dianna to her weekly chemo injection. Eric is among thousands of American Cancer Society volunteer drivers giving patients free rides to treatment every day. He chose the American Cancer Society in large part because of our flexibility around his dynamic firefighting and personal schedule. “There’s no pressure,” he says.

Dianna and Eric clicked from the start. “I was taken with him immediately and after the first ride called the American Cancer Society volunteer coordinator to say what a beautiful, caring person he was,” says Dianna, now 80 and a mother of 3 sons. “All of the drivers are nice, but Eric is special: I would be happy to adopt him as a fourth son.”

Eric would probably be fine with that. He says he has learned profound lessons of strength and resilience from Dianna, who stays relentlessly upbeat despite a rare form of blood cancer, heart, and spine issues.

“She knows I am here for her to lean on if she ever needs to talk through anything,” he says, “but never once has she complained about any of her circumstances. She leans forward to meet the task of getting healthier every day.”

Eric has heard about Dianna’s history as a buyer for a food manufacturer and, before that, as a talented lounge singer.

From the first ride, he says, their friendship bloomed. “She’s a great woman, we conversed easily, she spoke of her sons, and we developed a friendship. I’ve learned about her experiences, and she listens to the situations I’m in and offers good advice. It’s comfortable. It’s been far more than a matter of getting her to her appointment.”

And Dianna deeply appreciates Eric’s standing offer to help her with anything she needs, not just the rides. “I’m grateful for everything he’s done but mostly for his companionship,” she says. “Knowing that Eric is there for me, almost like another son, means a great deal to me.”

Volunteers are needed in Eric and Dianna’s region and around the country. To learn more about volunteering or getting a ride to treatment, call 1-800-227-2345.