Free rides could soon be on the way for Central Alberta cancer patients.
The Canadian Cancer Society is preparing to launch its volunteer driver program in Red Deer and the surrounding area for the first time.
The call is out for a minimum of 20 dedicated people who can drive patients to the Central Alberta Cancer Centre from their homes in Red Deer, Lacombe, Blackfalds, Sylvan Lake and Innisfail.
“We’re looking for people who are available to drive one day a week or two half days to take patients to and from treatment so they have one less thing to worry about,” said Erica Bell, the society’s Red Deer-based volunteer engagement co-ordinator.
According to Bell, the Red Deer Cancer Centre is seeing about 25 radiation patients a day.
The service makes the difficult treatment process easier as patients do not have to depend on family members who are already usually doing so much, Bell said.
“There’s so many challenges facing someone who lives with cancer, like financial challenges. Just parking at a facility can add up and we take care of that with our drivers. Or trying to get a taxi from Sylvan Lake. There’s physical challenges too; maybe they do have a car and can drive but can’t after treatment because they’re so tired.”
Ideally, the society hopes to have the program up and running with a call centre where patients can phone in for a ride by early or mid-February.
So far, about a dozen people have applied for the program and Bell is in the midst of the screening process.
“There’s still a real need. We really need a good core of volunteers, otherwise, it just doesn’t run.”
Drivers need to be prepared to commit long term — at least a year — said Bell.
“We’re looking for long-term volunteers because there is so much training and screening involved. We understand people do go away — snow birds and what not — so we’re flexible in that regard.”
All 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 and are reimbursed for mileage.
Volunteer driver programs are running in Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge.
The patients who use the programs in those cities call it “their lifeline to treatment” and say the volunteer drivers are “crucial members of a team that’s helping them survive,” Bell said.
Anyone interested in volunteering can call 403-347-3662 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.