In 2018 our volunteer drivers spent more than 5,500 hours behind the wheel so people who are living with cancer in our communities can get to the treatment they so desperately need.
But, the number of people needing free transport to treatment is on the rise.
For people like Jane Minhinnick, the Cancer Society’s volunteer driving service provides a valuable lifeline. Without it, Jane (Waikato-Tainui, Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Maniapoto) struggles to imagine how she would make her daily radiation therapy appointments at Waikato Hospital.
The independent 72-year-old Hamilton woman is unable to drive because of the after-effects of treatment, and there’s no one close by to offer support.
“I don’t have any family here. They live in Auckland and Morrinsville. But, they work and have families of their own to look after.
“If it wasn't for the volunteer drivers, I’d probably have to catch the bus. But after radiation, you’re in a daze. It’s quite dangerous even just walking or crossing the road to catch the bus.”
Jane started using the service in December 2018. She’s almost at the end of six weeks of radiation therapy, five days a week, following an operation in November to remove a gland in her neck.
The radiation therapy is only three minutes each session, but the effects last much longer.
“You feel like you can’t concentrate. You forget things. Your reaction time is very slow.”
The volunteer driving service ensures Jane’s journey to receive the treatment she needs is a safe one.
Nicola Bowe is volunteer development manager at the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Cancer Society. She’s seeing a significant increase in the number of people accessing the free volunteer driving service.
“Last year our drivers covered 108,947 kilometres. To put it into perspective, that’s almost three return journeys to the UK, which is phenomenal when you think about it.
“But what’s more, that’s a 38 percent increase in the distance our volunteers drove in 2017.”
Like Jane, many people using the volunteer driving service don’t have anyone to call on for support.
“They might be living on their own, or their spouse may not be able to drive,” says Nicola.
“In some cases, treatment can take many days, stretched out over many weeks, and it’s just not possible for a family member to take time off work, which would put families under additional hardship at a time that’s already filled with stress and uncertainty.
“So having a friendly face meet you after treatment, someone who will make sure you get home safe and sound, is huge.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Jane.
“I feel that someone is really caring for me. It’s good to know that afterwards, there’s someone there to take care of you and get you home. It would be awful without it. Really lonely and depressing without anyone there for you.
“When people help you, it makes you feel good. It makes you feel more positive. And when you feel good, it helps your healing.”