A local group of volunteers are reviving a popular program that drove cancer patients to and from their treatments.
“There are many people, in my experience, who need it,” said George Garrett, one of the organizers and a former volunteer driver with the Canadian Cancer Society.
He recalled meeting one cancer patient who tried to get to an appointment using bus and SkyTrain.
“It took her all day, and involved quite a bit of walking, and she wasn’t capable of walking too far,” he said.
That kind of dilemma is what prompted Garrett to join the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society to bring back volunteer driving for cancer patients.
Like other former drivers, Garrett was concerned when he heard the project was shutting down.
Garth Pinton is president of the new Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society, and John McInnes is also helping to organize the group.
“Our concern was… although there are some private services, they have to charge for the service,” said Garrett.
For years, the Canadian Cancer Society coordinated a group of volunteer drivers. In B.C. in 2014, the drivers took 1,100 patients with almost 400 drivers giving rides. They were paid 41 cents per kilometre for gas costs.
After a budget review, the Cancer Society cut the program in 2015 to save money. It cost $400,000 a year.
The society also cited a declining number of users and the rise of other services, such as the United Way’s Better At Home program which also offers volunteer drivers for seniors.
Garrett drove for two years for the Cancer Society before he had to give it up to spend more time caring for his wife.
He was inspired to take on the task after his daughter’s cancer treatments and subsequent recovery.
She suffered from a melanoma that invaded her lymph nodes, and was treated in 2001.
“The cancer has been in remission,” Garrett said. “She has since run several marathons.”
Driving patients was a rewarding experience, Garrett said.
The system was simple – a cancer patient phoned in about an upcoming appointment, and the society dispatched a driver.
“The driver stays with them, even if it’s a longer appointment,” Garrett said.
The retired intrepid radio reporter said he met a lot of nice people during his years driving.
He even got a home made card from a nine-year-old passenger, addressed “To George, my favourite cancer driver.”
The new society plans to pick up where the Cancer Society left off, offering free rides, primarily in the Delta, Surrey, and Langley areas, but also north of the Fraser River.
In Vancouver, Richmond, and Burnaby the Freemason’s Cancer Car Program was already working with the Cancer Society and kept going when their program was shuttered.
The new group has not yet started offering rides, and is gathering funding, volunteers, and organizing before it begins.
“It’s a real task,” said Garrett.
The new society is accepting donations at CIBC, and anyone wishing to donate should ask for transit number 00720 and account number 3048810.
– with files from the Vancouver Sun