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WHEELS OF HOPE NIAGARA

Essential Canadian Cancer Society program offers transportation to and from cancer-related appointments.

 

SCOTT LESLIE

Each year, over 85,000 men, women and children are diagnosed with cancer in Ontario. That’s a sobering statistic. But sometimes these patients have another issue to worry about. Approximately one in five cancer patients in Ontario have difficulty getting transportation to their cancer treatments.

That’s where “Wheels of Hope” comes in. 

Wheels of Hope Niagara is a Canadian Cancer Society initiative that offers transportation to and from these life saving treatments. That includes trips to St. Catharines, Hamilton and Toronto area hospitals. The society’s team of volunteer drivers provides these trips Monday to Friday for clients that would normally have trouble getting to their treatments. 

“It’s a critical service,” explains Kim Rossi, development officer at the Canadian Cancer Society. “With our aging population in Niagara, clients may no longer have the support system they once had to get to and from treatment. Sometimes they might require a year or even years of back and forth treatments. With our volunteer drivers, clients have one less worry with someone else behind the wheel.”

In order to become a driver with Wheels of Hope Niagara, volunteers need to have a clean smoke-free vehicle, a valid G class driver’s license, insurance and a safe driving record. Volunteer drivers must also be over 18, undergo a background check and attend special training and orientation sessions. These drivers are then reimbursed depending on the mileage they accumulate. 

“Often our clients and volunteers form a bond on their road trips,” Kim says. “Our volunteers are more than just drivers. They become a support system for those on their cancer journey.” 

The Canadian Cancer Society has been providing transportation services for cancer patients since the 1950s – and the Wheels of Hope Niagara program has become an uncommon success in recent years. In 2016 alone, the program provided 16,183 trips for 793 clients including adults and children. Volunteer drivers drove a total of 689,784 kilometres during that time.

But funding continues to be an issue. The Canadian Cancer Society doesn’t receive any government support for Wheels of Hope Niagara which costs just over $200,000 a year to operate. The Canadian Cancer Society’s Niagara chapter holds annual fundraisers like the Grapes of Wrath, a five kilometre obstacle and mud run that raises a large part of its funding. Clients who register with Wheels of Hope Niagara also help out by paying a one-time $100 registration fee.

But Kim says individual donations are critical, particularly as the demand for Wheels of Hope continues to grow across the region.

“Unfortunately, this is a program we’ll always need,” she says. “Approximately one in two Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, and there’s already an increased need in Niagara.” BL

If you’d like to make a donation towards Wheels of Hope Niagara or become a volunteer, contact the Niagara chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society at 905.684.6455 or niagara@ontario.cancer.ca. For more information or to register with Wheels of Hope Niagara, contact the Cancer Information Services Hotline at 1.888.939.3333 or
 info@cis.cancer.ca.