Al Heydarian knows what it's like to need some help.

He began battling cancer in 2001 and had to retire early from his career in electrical engineering while he underwent chemo and radiation treatments. Now, the 67-year-old Pleasanton man finds joy helping others, driving them to medical appointments and shopping outings all around the Tri-Valley area in one of his restored 1960s Chevys.

Q Tell us about your previous career.

A I came to this country in 1968 from Iran to get my education. All my life, my objective was to get an electrical engineering degree.

So after landing in New York City, not speaking any English, I worked as a busboy at the Holiday Inn at LaGuardia Airport while I took English classes in Queens. Then I finally made my way to Texas and got my degree at the University of Texas.

I worked at Hughes Aircraft, Hewlett-Packard and Agilent Technologies, but I decided to retire in 2001 due to my illness and enjoy whatever time I have left on Earth.

Q How did you get interested in volunteering?

A While going through numerous surgeries, chemo and radiations, I was at the hospital a lot, and I noticed a lot of volunteers working at the hospital. In Iran, I had never seen a volunteer work at the hospitals, or anywhere else for that matter. Working for nothing was not a norm there.

So I decided to start volunteer work in any capacity. At that time, I was living in San Jose. After a short research, I decided to help blind people by driving them to their doctor appointments, shopping and attending meetings. That (act of) putting your needs aside and helping others made me feel real good.

When I moved to Pleasanton to be closer to my daughter, I started working at the Open Heart Kitchen. At the kitchen, everyone was working hard with a smile.

After doing that for about three years, I realized I could no longer pick up heavy stuff in the kitchen due to two back surgeries and both hips replaced. So, I decided to work (at) the Pleasanton Senior Center as a volunteer driver for seniors in Dublin, Livermore, San Ramon and Pleasanton (with the Senior Support Program of the Tri-Valley).

Q Do you use your own vehicle?

A That's a fun part of it, actually. My hobby in the last 35 years was restoring classic cars. I grew up in the '50s, so I love '50s American cars. I still have my '67 Camaro convertible and my '62 Chevy Impala. If the weather is nice, I go with these old cars, pick people up -- it makes them happy and brings back good memories for them.

Q What do you enjoy about driving folks to appointments?

A This job is so rewarding. After a few rides, you feel connected to the people you are helping. While driving, you hear their stories and their lives. You hear what keeps them going, being optimistic about the future and how they live with age-related challenges.

I will continue this job until I can't do it anymore. I look at it as a cream puff for my soul. I always look forward to the assignment sheet being emailed to me once or twice a month. To me, the difference between regular work and volunteer work is that volunteers do it with a smile.

I am a lot happier than I was before I had cancer. I don't take anything for granted. We all get our shares of highs and lows. I had a few years low, but made it up by being more optimistic about the future, valuing time with family and friends.

When God takes something away, He gives you something else. I have my limitations, but I'm a happier person now.

Follow Angela Hill at Twitter.com/GiveEmHill.