By John Hall
Five days a week, Debbie Sellick boards a very special bus.
The bus provides free transportation for Calaveras County cancer patients who receive radiation therapy at St. Joseph´s Hospital in Stockton or at Ben Schaffer Cancer Institute in Lodi. The bus is particularly special to Sellick, because she was instrumental in starting the service – long before she learned in January she would be using it herself.
“When I get on that bus and I ride that bus, I know that everything I´ve done and what I´ve tried to do was for a reason,” the Arnold resident said.
Sellick, a massage therapist at Mark Twain St. Joseph´s Hospital in San Andreas, helped start a cancer support group through the hospital several years ago.
“I met a lady by the name of Joan Judd who had cancer and she wanted the hospital to be the ‘umbrella,´ so we went to (Hospital Administrator) Mike Lawson and he supported us,” she said.
Five years ago, the cancer support group held a softball tournament to raise money for its Christmas program.
Shortly after, Sellick´s father needed treatment for prostate cancer.
“He had to catch a bus over in Amador County, because we didn´t have transportation in our county,” she said. “I thought, well, maybe we´ll have a softball tournament next year and we´ll raise money for a van.”
A week before the tournament, Lawson approached Sellick and informed her that Sequoia Hospital, another Catholic Healthcare West facility, in Redwood City, had a surplus van that it would donate to Mark Twain St. Joseph´s Hospital.
“I´m like, oh my gosh, that´s great,” Sellick said. “And I was thinking, well, how did they find out about it?”
When Sellick, her mother and a woman from the hospital who was licensed to drive passenger vehicles went to Redwood City to pick up the van, they were surprised.
“It was a transport van. You know, like the casino´s or the Calaveras Transit vans. It was huge. We couldn´t believe it,” Sellick said.
They also met the hospital´s security manager, Michael Diltz. Diltz, an Arnold resident, showed them a copy of the advertisement for the softball tournament that had run in the Calaveras Enterprise.
“He said it was close to his heart,” Sellick said. “His wife had lymphoma.”
When they returned to San Andreas with the van, Sellick contacted Dr. Harvey Gilbert at the Schaffer Cancer Institute, whom she had met when her father was taking radiation treatments.
“His dream, too, was to have transportation for the patients,” she said.
Currently, Mark Twain St. Joseph´s provides maintenance and insurance for the van, and the Schaffer Institute pays driver Anthony Pascual´s wages.
A message, “It´s a Good Life,” and pictures of people from the county were painted on the bus, and it went into service in January, 2004. It takes only radiation patients, because chemotherapy takes three or four hours per patient, Pascual said.
At the cancer support group´s Christmas luncheon last December, Sellick was talking with Pete Rodrigues, an employee at Mark Twain St. Joseph´s.
“I said, ‘You know, Pete, I wonder what it´s really like to have cancer. You know, I´m here as a supporter and I really don´t know what it´s like,´” she said.
On Jan. 3, she found out. She had a mammogram.
“There was a mass there. I had seen Dr. (Peter) Oliver and had a biopsy. He said, ‘I´m going to tell you something you don´t want to hear, but you have second-stage breast cancer,´ Sellick said.
She underwent chemotherapy – eight sessions in seven months – and currently is completing eight weeks of daily radiation treatments. She plans to go back to work in October.
“I am just very blessed with all the love and support I have gotten from Mark Twain St. Joseph´s Hospital and our county, and my friends, and I just want to say a special ‘thank you´ to my family,” she said.
Sellick said the Valley Springs Quilters make a quilt for every cancer patient that rides the “It´s a Great Life” bus.
“I hope that these people who have cancer that need to ride our bus, sponsored by Mark Twain St. Joseph´s Hospital and the Ben Schaffer Cancer Institute, will use it,” she said.
For more information about the bus and services, call 351-0064.
This year, proceeds from the fifth playing of the softball tournament that has been integral to so many things will be used to provide scholarships to Bret Harte and Calaveras high school students. The tournament is set for Oct. 8 at Copello Park in Angels Camp. Entries are $25 per person and teams are limited to 12 players. For more information, call Anthony Pascual at 351-0064 or Ralph Emerson at 728-4906.
The Calaveras County Cancer Support Group meets at 10 a.m. the first Thursday of each month at Mark Twain St. Joseph´s Hospital. For more information, call 754-2521, ext. 2015.
born: June 18, 1963, Jackson, Calif.
graduated: Bret Harte High School
Reprinted with permission from The Calaveras Enterprise
last school attended: Calaveras College of Massage
children: Rosalee, 21; Mario, 19; and Angie, 15.