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Desperate need for volunteer drivers

People needing a lift to cancer treatments know all too well how important these Good Samaritans are to recovery

Longtime New Westminster resident Pat McPherson is grateful to the volunteers who have kindly driven her to the cancer clinic in Surrey.

"They take you there, they wait and they bring you home," she said. "It is a wonderful service."

While a friend has been able to take McPherson to some of her radiation appointments, he's not always available. On those days when no one is available to take her to her appointments, she's used the Canadian Cancer Society's volunteer driver program.

"I have been availing myself of volunteer drivers to get from New Westminster to the cancer clinic in Surrey," she said. "They are desperately, desperately short of drivers."

The Canadian Cancer Society currently only has three volunteers in New Westminster who are able to drive residents to chemotherapy, radiation or other appointments related to their treatment.

McPherson can't say enough about the volunteers who drive her to her appointments. Although she drives, she said it's an additional stress on top of the treatment.

"You don't want the stress of traffic and trying to find parking, with the stress of treatment," she explained.

Sara Salehie, support program coordinator for the Greater Vancouver region of the Canadian Cancer Society, said volunteer drivers are in great need in New Westminster.

"Right now, especially in New Westminster we are quite short," she said. "We have a demand."

New Westminster resident Orrie Babiuk is the volunteer dispatcher for drivers in New Westminster, and her husband, Kerry, is one of three drivers.

"In New Westminster, sometimes we just don't have anybody," she said. "It would be really good if we could get some New Westminster drivers."

Babiuk has been in the unfortunate position of having to tell clients that no driver is available to take them to an appointment.

"You want to cry, especially when you know that is it," she said. "Everyone is so appreciative. I didn't realize there is so many people who don't have anybody -there is just nobody."

In some cases, Babiuk said people have postponed their treatment until a driver was available, as they had no other way to get to their appointment. Some clients have tried to take SkyTrain to their appointments when a driver wasn't available, but cancer patients are supposed to avoid compromising their immune systems during treatment.

"They are tired. To get on the bus and go to SkyTrain, it's just really hard," Babiuk said. "They really like having someone to talk to. The driver becomes a big part of their life."

Babiuk said there used to be seven or eight drivers in New Westminster, which was great - especially if some drivers were on vacation. Several have passed away, and only three are available today.

"You can give as much time as you can," she said. "Some drivers only drive one-half day, one day a week."

Salehie said volunteers must have a clean driving record (no accidents or tickets for three years), insurance coverage of at least $3 million, be nonsmokers and available to drive during business hours. They would be driving cancer patients to treatment centres in Surrey, Vancouver and sometimes the North Shore.

"They should at least be available one day a week," she said. "The commitment period is one year."

Salahie said the experience is often so rewarding that volunteers end up giving more of their time than they had originally planned.

"This is a very fulfilling experience," she said. "A lot of people say they love it."

If you're interested in volunteering as a driver to take cancer patients to their appointments, visit www.cancervolunteer. ca or call 604-215-5217.

tmcmanus@royalcityrecord.com

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