Drivers helping provide a lift for patients

Garth Pinton recalls regularly driving a 10-year-old child to Vancouver for cancer treatments not too long ago.

Sadly, the child later passed away at the age of 12, but Pinton remembers their trips together fondly.

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Undergoing cancer treatment can be a trying time for both patients and their families, Pinton explains, and while the treatments can be a challenge, getting there shouldn’t be, he notes.

That’s why he helped form the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society a year ago after a similar program by the Canadian Cancer Society was closed in 2015.

In a previous North Shore News story, Leanne Morgan, director of support services for the Canadian Cancer Society, was quoted as saying the decision to stop the program was a difficult one and was based on a number of reasons, including decreasing volunteer numbers and ridership, the existence of similar government-funded driving programs and increasing operating costs.

Pinton had been a volunteer driver with the cancer society program for five years and joined two other volunteer drivers to create the new service in the wake of its closure. When the other program was cancelled, Pinton says he called patients who had appointments booked to tell them the program was no longer operating.

“That was very difficult to do,” he says. “Some people were in tears wondering how they were going to get to treatment.”

The reaction was part of the catalyst that drove the North Vancouver resident to help start the new group. A year after incorporating, the non-profit organization is going strong with more than 75 volunteer drivers and a mandate to provide free, dependable and safe rides to people receiving treatment and follow-up care for cancer.

During the past year, volunteer drivers have completed 134 trips from the North Shore, contributing 391 volunteer hours, and driving 6,100 kilometres. The group operates in other areas of the Lower Mainland and Pinton estimates the total overall numbers from the past year at 4,100 patient trips, 13,000 hours of volunteer time, and 264,000 kilometres driven.

Although patients go to a number of locations for chemotherapy and other appointments, including at Lions Gate Hospital, the majority of radiation treatment is done at the BC Cancer Agency in Vancouver.

Radiation treatment is usually every day for up to six weeks, so while family and friends often rally to help patients get to treatment and appointments, most people can’t take six weeks off work. And some patients don’t have a support system or one capable of getting them to their appointments. That’s where the volunteer drivers come in and help fill in those gaps.

Drivers commit to wait for three hours as patients undergo treatment and meet with doctors, and then they drive the patients home.

With traffic these days, even picking someone up the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal and driving into Vancouver and back takes a long time and some of the patients come from as far away as Langley or Ladner, so that can be a full-day commitment for a driver, notes Pinton.

Drivers get 41 cents per kilometre to help cover the cost of gas, and while most of the drivers are retired and on fixed incomes they’re happy to donate their time, he explains.

“I’ve never had an unhappy patient,” says Pinton. “They’re so upbeat, and they’re so positive, and they’re so appreciative.”

Pinton says they recently received a call from an agency about a patient who lives in Abbotsford and needs to go to St. Paul’s Hospital three times a week for five weeks to undergo a trial pain-control therapy.

Despite the distances involved, Pinton says they already have three volunteers ready to go.

Helping others helps put things in perspective, notes Pinton. “At the end of the day I feel badly because I feel so good,” he says.

For more information or to donate go to volunteercancerdrivers.ca.

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