The Lower Mainland’s Volunteer Cancer Drivers organization will celebrate a fourth birthday on Leap Day.
On Feb. 29, 2016, the non-profit society was born to give cancer patients free rides to their medical appointments.
Since then, the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society’s 200-plus drivers and dispatchers have provided close to 55,688 free rides to cancer patients in need, driving a combined 1,640,287 kilometers, according to a news release.
In their fifth year, the volunteer-run service looks to continue to alleviate the stress on cancer patients across the Lower Mainland and to keep up with ever-growing demand, the release notes.
“With demand for transportation increasing by 30 to 35 per cent per year, the volunteer drivers are expected to offer 27,700 rides in 2020, logging 750,000 km — or the equivalent of 120 trans-Canada road trips. They are entirely reliant on the fundraising efforts of their volunteers and the generosity of individual donors and community-minded organizations.”
Growth in the Surrey area “has been remarkable,” according to George Garrett, the organization’s media liaison and lead fundraiser.
“In North Surrey/North Delta we made over 4,400 drives with patients in 2019,” he told the Now-Leader. “In South Surrey/South Delta over 2,800. We are expecting about 25 per cent growth in 2020, particularly in North Surrey/North Delta.
“Thankfully 2019 was our best year ever,” added Garrett, a retired radio reporter who lives in Surrey. “We now have funding to carry us through most of the year plus money set aside for future years. It’s a long way from where we started.”
The organization was created following the Canadian Cancer Society’s 2015 decision to no longer provide free transportation to cancer patients. With Garrett, former Canadian Cancer Society drivers John McInnes and Garth Pinton founded the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society to ensure patients would continue to receive such care.
A Cloverdale resident, MacInnes died of cancer in 2017, just 15 days after being diagnosed with the disease. He was 83.
Today, the organization’s service area stretches from West Vancouver to Mission.
Patients helped by Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society are as diverse as their volunteers, according to Garrett.
“They include immigrants who are far away from their families, single mothers who need assistance accompanying themselves and their children to and from appointments and individuals who live far from Metro Vancouver and cannot afford the hundred-dollar taxi fare into the city,” Garrett said. “Many patients served by VCDS are elderly. B.C. statistics show that 90 per cent of cancer patients are age 60 and older.”
One client, Randy Hauer’s brother Byron, needed transportation from Surrey to the VGH BMT-AML Unit for chemo over four months.
“I could not be there for him but (VCDS) drivers were,” Hauer said in the VCDS news release. “Byron was rested, at ease and the kind company put him in a healing frame of mind. [The VCDS] are Angels on Wheels. Thank you is not enough to say.”
Of course, additional volunteers are always needed. More details can be found at volunteercancerdrivers.ca.