The organization was created in 2016 to give cancer patients rides to appointments around the Lower Mainland.
October of 2015 was difficult for many cancer patients across Canada.
That’s when the Canadian Cancer Society discontinued its volunteer cancer drivers program. It left hundreds of cancer patients without rides to their appointments.
Former CKNW reporter George Garrett used to be a driver for the program. After it was cancelled, Garrett’s friend John McInnes reached out to him with an idea.
“He wanted to start up the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society, so he called me up and said ‘we need you,’” Garrett told SurreyCares. “Soon after that, we received Canadian charitable status, and we started up in February of 2016.”
Since then, they’ve exponentially expanded their operations to assist cancer patients all across the Lower Mainland.
“Phenomenal Growth” for Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society
With the society about to celebrate their four-year anniversary, it’s a fine time to remember the humble beginnings.
They started with 16 drivers. Today, there are more than 200 drivers working for the society.
“We started getting requests immediately as soon as we started,” Garrett said.
Requests from patients have grown by 30-35% every year, according to statistics from the society. They expect a 25% growth in requests this year as well.
In 2019, they completed just over 26,900 patient tips.
“It’s just been phenomenal growth. It’s partly been from us getting the word out, but a lot of it just comes from the need for rides.
“A lot of the growth is here in Surrey, and much of that is immigrants coming to Canada. They especially have no one to turn to. “
The Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society covers nearly all of the Lower Mainland and the Fraser Valley. However, Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond are covered by volunteer Freemasons.
“I’m almost shocked by how fast we’ve grown, it’s just so great,” Garret said.
“It’s been a challenge along the way though, and we had two challenges off the bat. One was finding drivers, and two was to raise money to pay them for driving. We started at 36 cents per kilometre. Now, we’re at 48 cents.
“The nice thing is, as a group, they contribute about 21% of their earnings back to us, which amounts to $70,000 per year.”
Generosity from the drivers making an impact
The dedicated team of compassionate drivers has been a primary force behind the society’s success.
“It takes a special kind of person to do this,” Garrett said. “The drivers become very bonded to the patients. They get a feeling as to whether the patient wants to talk or not. Often, they want to talk on the way there, but after treatment, they want to rest on the way back, and the drivers are very respectful of that.
“The drivers make a difference in many ways. Sometimes its jokes in the car to lighten the mood. Sometimes a driver makes a run with two or three patients. They ‘re able to help the patients put aside their concerns about the disease for a while.“
Garrett notes that both the patients and drivers are benefitting from the experience.
“The drivers say it's very rewarding, and we get comments from the patients all the time. One of them said to me: ‘you saved my life, I couldn’t have done this without you.’ The generosity of the drivers and their willingness to help the patients is outstanding.”
No one might embody the spirit of a volunteer driver better than Larry Coleman.
“We had Larry Coleman talk to a TV interviewer once who asked him, ‘why do you do this?’ He said, ‘because it’s the right thing to do, and he really meant it.’”
“We get some drivers who drive once a week, three times a week, but he’s a guy who does two rides a day if needed.”
Coleman isn’t the only example of someone who shared their Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society story on television.
“One lady wrote to us and said; ‘you’ll never know how many hearts you have warmed or how many spirits you have raised.’
“Her name is Vivian Ginter. Her story was, she called us because she was diagnosed with cancer. Her main transport was son and neighbour, but both got cancer and died while she was still alive. She had no one left to turn to, so she called us.”
Ginter eventually agreed to share her story on Global BC, and she appeared on one of their newscasts with Garrett just before Christmas last year.
The Power of Donations
Based on recent donations, the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society seems primed to grow. They were also the recipient of a grant from us during the SurreyCares Grant Ceremony last September.
We applied last year to SurreyCares last year and we were successful,” Garrett said. “At the awards, I was really impressed with how many charities you sponsor, and how many people you help. As I said in my acceptance speech, it must be difficult for a board to decide who benefits this year, and we’re extremely grateful for SurreyCares support of us and all the other charities in the community.”
There are two ways in which you can assist the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society. Of course, donating is one, but they’re also looking for more drivers as well. In particular, there’s a shortage of drivers out in Maple Ridge.
Find out more about how to help the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society by visiting their website.