Going my way?

 

One of the primary reasons cancer treatment has advanced so quickly is the infusion of money from an aware and involved community. One of the main reasons I (and many like me) have survived  is the amazing support of the Freemasons/Canadian Cancer Society Volunteer Drivers program. The volunteer drivers essentially take cancer patients and their escorts to and from their appointments. Distance is not an issue. The trip can be from home to the hospital and back or from home (in my case Campbell River) to Vancouver and back. No matter. When I have been too unwell or too medicated to drive, I know who to call.

 

Locally it starts with Anne Marie, our dispatcher. She has an unfailingly can-do attitude and a lovely personality. Her feeling seems to be that her “clients” have enough to worry about without having to think about travel arrangements. Give her enough lead time and she can get you where you need to go, no questions asked, don’t worry. If she isn’t there to pick up her phone, she unfailingly returns messages. When she arranges a trip she always calls to confirm. Always. Her pay? The satisfaction of a job well done. Possibly the reward of knowing she is doing something fundamentally good. All this and her “clients” keep dieing on her. She sucks it up and keeps on going – always polite, always pleasant.

 

The van travels from Campbell River to Victoria three times a week if there are enough passengers to warrant a trip. Otherwise it will connect with a van from another community which has room. If there is only one passenger and no van traveling from another community, no problem. Two drivers pick up the passenger and take that passenger to Victoria. They take cancer patients where they need to go and then take them home. The van is clean, modern and comfortable.

 

The local drivers donate a day every month or so and two of them make the trip to Victoria, sharing the driving duties. They too are unfailingly polite and pleasant. Many of them have either been touched by cancer personally or have had a significant other affected by it. It shows. They drive with their passengers in mind.

 

In Vancouver, the experience is similar. As an outpatient following my transplant, the volunteer drivers initially took me from the Jean C. Barber Cancer Lodge to the hospital – just a few blocks. Then, for some months, they transported me three times a week from Richmond to Vancouver General Hospital and then took me back, often a trip of an hour or more (depending on traffic) each way. In many cases when my appointment ran late, the dispatcher took me to Richmond in his own vehicle. Today, they pick me up at the downtown bus depot (I ride across from Vancouver Island on the Pacific Coach Lines bus) and take me to my destination – any destination in the GVRD. The drivers donate a half day a week of their time. Their cars are clean and modern and comfortable.

 

You might wonder how someone on disability can afford what is essentially a limo service. The answer is surprising. The Freemasons/CCC Volunteer Drivers program depends on donations. While it is clear they accept donations from their passengers, they are not aggressive in seeking them. Their clients seem too important to them, too fragile to harangue. If one cannot make a donation, absolutely no mention is made of it. I cannot say too much about this service or speak too highly of their people. It is an absolute fact that if not for them it is unlikely I would have survived this long. Their willingness to handle any request when I was too weak or ill to deal with anything but making it until the next day has been extraordinary. Their clients are unfailingly weak and ill. The dispatchers and drivers are unfailingly pleasant and dependable. Their service is invaluable. I think the only reason they seem to shun publicity is that they would be even busier than they are today and would have trouble coping with the increased demand.

 

The Freemasons/Canadian Cancer Society Volunteer Drivers program is, without reservation, the finest example of community service in action.

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