George Garrett helped start the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society in 2016. He has since retired from the organization. (File photo)

George Garrett helped start the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society in 2016. He has since retired from the organization. (File photo)

Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society to expand, seeks volunteers

Organization looks to double volunteer base as demand increases

The Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society is looking to double its volunteer base as the organization expands to more cities in the Lower Mainland.

In addition to most municipalities in the region, the society recently added coverage in Burnaby, New Westminster, Chilliwack and Richmond. This fall, they are expected to bring operations to Vancouver.

VCDS president Bob Smith told Peace Arch News that the expansion is due to other similar services in the region being discontinued. In fact, the society first got its start after the Canadian Cancer Society ceased its cancer patient driving program in 2016.

The organization currently has 216 volunteers on its roster. Volunteers pick up cancer patients at their home and bring them to the hospital or clinic for treatment. The volunteers are tasked with waiting for the patient to finish with their treatment and then bring them back home.

“In large part, what happens is many patients will be put on radiation treatment. The radiation treatment might be every day, five days a week. That can run up to five or six weeks depending now what the doctors prescribe, but that’s every day,” Smith told PAN.

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Smith said, typically, the patients are elderly, retired, live alone and are frail. Immediate family might not be available to drive them to appointments, and some don’t have access to a vehicle. Smith noted that taking a round trip taxi ride every day, particularly on a fixed income, is unaffordable to many patients.

“We take away all of that uncertainty. Some of these folks, it isn’t that they’re poverty stricken, it’s that the options for them are inconvenient. We take that away. Some of these folks, even though we don’t ask them to pay anything, many of them will make donations to us. Some of them have been quite generous,” Smith said.

Smith said the organization is looking to recruit 180 to 200 more volunteers. Volunteers will have to provide a driving abstract and criminal record check. The approved volunteers will then be asked to join an orientation where they will learn about the operation and COVID-19 health and safety precautions.

Volunteers are paid 50 cents per kilometre, which is the society’s biggest expense.

“Because everybody uses their own car, we have no employees, we all work out of our home, our overhead is pretty low,” Smith said. “Running about seven per cent. We have to pay for insurance, telephone, printing and so on.”

In July, the organization reached a milestone of drivers clocking more than 2 million kilometres.

Smith, who regularly drives patients, said it’s rewarding work that can result in new friendships and connections.

“It rekindles your faith in others because you’re a volunteer, you’re doing it, and you would hope that others in the community get the same satisfaction.”

To book a ride or learn how to become a volunteer, visit https://volunteercancerdrivers.ca/