LUNENBURG -- The journey from car to cockpit defines the trajectory of Ron Robillard's friendship with David Dion.
Dion, of Lunenburg, is a veteran pilot and also a driver for the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery, a program that helps patients without a ride get to chemotherapy and other lifesaving treatments. The road to recovery went from asphalt to altitude recently when Dion took Robillard on a private flight.
And the one-hour flight around and through Boston was more than a pleasure cruise and bonding session. "It has been life-enriching for both of us," said Dion.
Robillard is a frequent passenger of Dion's and, during conversation on those 40-minute rides to Worcester Memorial Hospital, the men discovered a significant overlap of interests, particularly aviation.
The conversation continued through headsets as the men soared above Boston Harbor, over the shipyard and around Mt. Wachusett. The topic of cancer was grounded in favor of mutually narrated points of interest in Boston's history and architecture. They discussed their beloved Red Sox's most recent championship while circling the bases at Fenway.
Dion, 67, and Robillard, 68, also share the same bracket of cultural history that includes sports, film and science. "David tends to drive the conversation," said Robillard, of Ayer.
Robillard is one of seven patients that Dion transports as part his role in the ACS's Road to Recovery. The nationwide program matches cancer patients with volunteer drivers, who are trained and vetted through the society.
"The on-line training for the program is the best I have ever had," Dion said. "They teach the do's don'ts of how to speak with the patients. It is sensitivity training and much more. For example, never say, 'I know how you feel' because you don't."
His son is a cancer survivor. It was during a hospital visit with him that he overheard a conversation between a nurse and another patient. "How are you going to get to your next treatment? she asked." He took that as a challenge and an opportunity to help, contacting the American Cancer Society almost immediately after a Google search explained the ride-share program and its criteria.
Soon he was transporting patients from around North Central Massachusetts, including Robillard. Dion spent 20 years flying F4s for the United States Air Force before beginning a 21-year career at Raytheon. When he discovered Robillard's fascination with aviation, the friendship soared to new heights. Earlier this month, the experienced pilot and his new friend rented a 2003 Cirrus SR22 out of Fitchburg. The man from Ayer was in the air.
The 310-horsepower engine paled in comparison to the power of friendship. "It has really given me something," said Robillard. "I feel like I've known him all my life." The friendly skies are at it again.
And, although not all drivers in the RtR program will ultimately befriend you or take you on a plane ride, their contribution is appreciated.
To become a volunteer driver for the American Cancer Society, visit their website at https://www.cancer.org/treatment/support-programs-and-services/road-to-recovery.html.