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Driving Compassion: Volunteer Cancer Group Needs Drivers

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Back in 1999 when Sylvia Bishop was still working as a schoolteacher in Delta, her father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer which required treatments at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) and Surrey Memorial.

Because her mother had stopped driving and Sylvia was working, she relied on the Canadian Cancer Society’s volunteer driver program, which was a godsend. In South Delta there was a local farmer who would pick up her father and take him to his cancer treatments.

“I think that as a working person, as much as you want to be there for your family member or friend to drive them, you can’t always,” says Sylvia. “Because work is not always going to let you take all the time off.”

Cancer treatments happen on the hospital’s schedule, not at the convenience of family and friends. Which is why when in October of 2015 the Canadian Cancer Society discontinued the service, several current and former volunteers of the program hurried to fill in the gaps.

George Garrett, vice-president of the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society (VCDS), says there are many cancer patients who have been left stranded by the cuts.

“There’s a lady who lives in Cloverdale named Myra Ford and she told a story of having gone from Cloverdale to the cancer clinic at Vancouver General Hospital,” recalls George. “Her daughter couldn’t drive her that day so she took a taxi. Cost her $100. And that was only one way.”

The VCDS launched service in in the South Fraser region, Tri-Cities and Abbotsford on Feb. 29 and have been busy ever since.

Like so many who volunteer, George was personally touched by cancer in 2001 when his daughter Linda was diagnosed with melanoma.

She received interferon treatments for a year and George says he saw how hard it was on her body before she went into remission.

Years later, George began volunteer driving for the Canadian Cancer Society, developing some deep connections with cancer patients.

One patient he can’t forget is 8-year-old Samantha, whom he drove to the cancer clinic in Vancouver while his wife Joan read books to her in the backseat. He let her push the remote button to open the van door and pick the radio stations.

One day she gave him a homemade card with a drawing of flowers and a balloon on it. It read, “To George. My favourite cancer driver. Thank you for being so nice.”

“Unfortunately she died a short time after that but I still have the card.”

Although a free volunteer drivers program exists north of the Fraser River provided by the Freemasons, the VCDS is trying to help people living south of the river.

“You can’t afford the taxi, transit is inadequate and not only that but you can be very sick after cancer treatment,” says Sylvia, who is now a municipal councillor in Delta. “I wouldn’t trust anybody to get on a bus after their treatment and make their way back home.”

In early March, Delta council voted in unanimous support of a $5,000 grant to support VCDS and has since urged other South Fraser municipalities to match those funds. Surrey has since followed suit.

The VCDS is looking for drivers with a clean abstract updated every six months and who carry $3 million of personal liability insurance. Drivers are expected to pick up patients, wait for their treatment regardless of length, and return them home. They are compensated 41 cents per kilometre travelled.

If you’d like to support VCDS (who have applied for charitable status) you can donate at any CIBC branch (Transit #00720, Account #3048810). Call 604-515-5400 or volunteercancerdrivers.ca.

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