The Canadian Cancer Society’s volunteer driver program for Central Alberta Cancer Centre patients is ready and waiting for people who need rides.
Fourteen drivers have been available since early March, but only two patients have been driven back and forth from the newly expanded cancer centre in Red Deer.
Kim Matthews, team lead volunteer driver program co-ordinator, said it’s likely that many patients living in Red Deer do not know that the service is available to them, as well as patients in the surrounding communities of Lacombe, Blackfalds, Sylvan Lake and Innisfail, and the rural area.
“We’re here and really want to assist wherever we can, for sure. What we need now is clients to drive,” Matthews said.
“I have no doubt that once the communities are aware that we’re driving, the demand is going to go up for our services.”
Rides are free to patients, with no cap on the number of times they can use the service to access treatment at the cancer centre.
Patients must be mobile to get in and out of vehicles with minimal assistance. They can bring small walkers but wheelchairs are not allowed as volunteers use their own vehicles.
Volunteer drivers are available Monday to Friday, from 8:15. a.m. to 4 p.m., except for statutory holidays and over Christmas. Only extremely hazardous weather will keep the drivers off the roads.
Matthews said the program helps take stress off patients because they don’t have to worry about getting to their treatments or paying for parking while they are there.
“For radiation treatment, they need to go every day for a period of anywhere from four to six weeks and that can get taxing on both the families as well as the pocketbook.”
She said the program is still looking to add a few more drivers to the roster.
Volunteers must undergo a criminal record check and a full day of training and hospital orientation so they know where to take patients. They must have a reliable vehicle. They are reimbursed for mileage.
Patients and potential volunteers can call toll-free 1-855-477-8998.
Central Alberta Cancer Centre’s new building at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre has been open to patients for six months. The new facility, four times the size of its former location, has brought radiation treatment to Central Alberta so most cancer patients no longer have to travel to Edmonton or Calgary.
It will serve breast, lung, prostate, bladder and gastrointestinal cancer patients, as well as palliative patients with bone pain or other chronic discomforts who need symptom relief.
Those suffering from head and neck cancers or pediatrics cases will still have to make the journey to Edmonton or Calgary.
Already 125 patients have completed radiation therapy since the facility opened and 20 to 25 patients per day have been treated on the medical day unit that has treatment areas for chemotherapy.
In 2012, about 1,600 cancer patients received chemotherapy in Red Deer. The new centre expects to provide radiation to 600 patients a year.