Cancer patients need more driven volunteers

Free transport program takes people to appointments but needs more money and drivers

Don Fowler has driven over 600 cancer patients to their appointments in Abbotsford and Surrey.

Don Fowler has driven over 600 cancer patients to their appointments in Abbotsford and Surrey.

Don Fowler had driven hundreds of cancer patients to their appointments in Surrey and Abbotsford when he heard the Canadian Cancer Society was cancelling its Volunteer Driver Program.

“I couldn’t believe it; it’s such a needed program,” said Fowler, who started volunteering about 10 years ago, soon after his own battle with prostate cancer.

But it wasn’t long after, in January of this year, that the service was up and running once more, independent of CCS and under a new name: Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society. VCDS is composed of the same people who volunteered with the cancer society, but they are now not affiliated with it.

When the CCS cancelled its volunteer drivers program, its press release said the cancellation was based on “factors such as similar government-funded driving programs, decreasing volunteers and ridership as well as increasing operating costs.”

The society suggested patients who needed rides use the Freemasons’ service or other user-pay services. But users have reported some of those groups did not answer phone calls.

Other pay services are available but reportedly are unable to accommodate riders on the short notice they sometimes have for appointments.

The VCDS, which began service on Feb. 29, would also like 48 hours’ notice, but does not refuse service.

Drivers will pick up clients on the North Shore, the Tri-Cities, Delta, Surrey, White Rock and Langley and Abbotsford.

Drivers, including Fowler, often pick up multiple patients and carpool in a single trip. The organization is run entirely by volunteers and there is no charge.

“I was at a meeting yesterday and about 30 people showed up,” says George Garrett, a program coordinator and former volunteer driver who also advocates for the Alzheimer Society of B.C.

“Our legacy is going to be that we’re still going to be here 25 years from now,” said another driver, John MacInnes, who is 81, and was a volunteer cancer driver for nine years with the CCS – a program that itself lasted about a quarter-century.

Fowler now drives as much as five days a week, and has now given a lift to more than 600 people.

“It’s very satisfying to know you can do something in a day that someone is actually really appreciative of; that you just helped someone that really needed it,” said Fowler.

He said he has trouble saying no when called by the VCDS dispatcher, but hope his driving schedule lightens up soon.

VCDS is in need of driving volunteers, as well as donations to cover fuel costs. There is no minimum time commitment. For more information, visit volunteercancerdrivers.ca or call 604-515-5400.

with files from Boaz Joseph, Surrey Leader