The Canadian Cancer Society is in urgent need of volunteer drivers in Collingwood and across Simcoe County for its Wheels of Hope program.
Wheels of Hope is a transportation program that provides people living with cancer rides to and from their treatment appointments. Dedicated volunteers donate their time and use their own vehicles to help people living with cancer get to the hospital or cancer centre, commonly Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH).
“Through the program, volunteers pick up people and take them to their life-saving treatments,” said Mark Kahan, recruitment coordinator for the Canadian Cancer Society.
A cancer diagnosis can be devastating, Kahan said, not only for the individual but also for their family. The added stress of figuring out transportation to and from radiation, Monday to Friday, for up to six weeks can be especially overwhelming.
Especially for those who live in a small town or rural community.
“We always say cancer doesn’t have an address,” said Kahan. “The program takes a lot of stress off of the client’s plates and the families as well.”
Kahan started out as a volunteer driver himself a number of years ago. Having survived a sarcoma diagnosis when he was just eight years old, he was looking for ways to give back. However, Kahan was concerned about the emotional aspect of the position, anxious about spending his days with people who were upset or down on themselves.
He said he couldn’t have been more wrong.
“The people lifted my spirits,” said Kahan. “I thought it was supposed to be the other way around. It was amazing.”
Kahan started driving regularly and loved it, so when a position became available as a volunteer coordinator, he hastened to apply. He has been involved with the Wheels of Hope program for seven years now and has since taken on recruitment as well.
“I always say this job found me,” he smiled.
Most of the volunteers have some sort of personal connection to cancer as well, so their heart is really in it, Kahan said. Feedback is always positive, with volunteers continuously in awe of the conversations they have, the kindness and compassion they experience. The appreciation is evident from the clients as well. Comments like, “I don’t know what I would have done without this program,” and “The volunteers make me smile and take so much stress off my shoulders” are common for Kahan to hear.
“The magic really happens during the drives there and home,” he said. “The connections are really happening between these people.”
However, there are certain pockets of the country that are severely lacking in volunteer drivers — and Simcoe Muskoka is one of them. Collingwood itself currently only has one volunteer driver, and Kahan said due to demand, the program could use approximately five more.
“As it currently stands, if we got any more requests, we’d have to say no,” he said.
For people who live in a small town or aren’t able to easily access their care centre, Kahan said if they don’t have a ride, oftentimes they just aren’t going to their treatment at all.
“If the only reason someone isn’t getting the treatment they need is that they simply don’t have a ride, that breaks my heart,” he said.
Kahan said the society is looking for people who are available during the day, from Monday to Friday, who have a good driving record and operate a smoke-free vehicle. Kahan said the majority of volunteers are people who are retired or shift workers, such as nurses, police officers or paramedics, but that list is by no means exclusive.
“I love talking to people who have time on their hands,” he laughed.
Those interested in volunteering should visit www.cancervolunteer.ca, then click on Wheels of Hope to apply, email [email protected] for more information or call the Canadian Cancer Society at 1 (888) 939-3333.
“It’s almost impossible to meet anybody in society who hasn’t been touched by cancer in some way,” said Kahan.