Since he started driving cancer patients to their medical appointments six years ago Bill Postma has now helped hundreds of people.
Postma is one of the many drivers who volunteered for the Canadian Cancer Society program that ended in 2015, and joined the Cancer DriveLine society, a local non-profit that replaced the former program in Greater Victoria and which recently assisted its 1,000th patient.
“It’s hundreds that I’ve driven now,” said the retired Postma, who lives in Sidney. “I put on 12,000 kms a year, 1,000 per month.”
After a serious accident about nine years ago, Postma started volunteering with Thrifty’s Sendial program delivering groceries to people in need of help. He enjoyed helping and began to drive cancer patients to their treatments at the B.C. Cancer Agency next to the Royal Jubilee Hospital.
In its first nine months DriveLine helped transport more than 300 people as 75 drivers made more than 2,100 trips, exceeding 60,000 kilometres. In 2018, Cancer DriveLine has 80-plus drivers and 92 volunteers total (including dispatch) and assisted its 1,000th client as driver totals have now carried out over 11,800 trips, a total of more than 206,700 kms.
“We started on Oct. 5, 2015, the day after the agency closed the old program, and we adopted the drivers [for Greater Victoria],” said Judith Cameron, founding member of the DriveLine board. Drivers pick up patients from their home, transport them to their appointment at the B.C. Cancer Agency, or another medical appointment and then drive them home after.
Since Island gas prices spiked in May of 2018 it’s been harder on many of the drivers, Cameron said. They are on pace for a total of 50,000 to 55,000 kms driven by volunteers and about two-thirds of those drivers accept stipends to reimburse mileage. The other third are able to donate that gas money back.
Costs are rising.
“Cancer DriveLine has become so successful it’s been difficult to meet all the needs they’ve been asked for,” Cameron said. “We rely on community support and donations, no government sponsors, and no [significant] reliable donors. And no one is on payroll, no one is paid.”
One of the challenges is that while fundraising, Cancer DriveLine volunteers often hear people say “We already give to the cancer society,” Cameron said. “We tell them, ‘That’s great news but, none of it comes to us, we’re independent, and people are surprised to hear that.’”
“It gets me out of the house, out of my La-Z-boy,” Postma said. “You meet a lot of people which is nice, at times its tough, but that’s okay, it’s a tremendous service.”
Drivers aren’t trained and therefore can only offer support in terms of conversation. But with a lot of experience, that can be quite comforting, Cameron said.
“We talk about everything, careers, kids, whatever, and a lot of [patients] are nervous, especially their first time,” Postma said. “I try to calm them down, I listen… because some people are at home alone and need to talk, so I just let them.”
For more information about Cancer DriveLine visit cancerdriveline.ca.