Freemasons Cancer Car Program

The Freemasons Cancer Car program has stationed a vehicle in Duncan to better serve the needs of Duncan and Cowichan Valley patients.

Doug Sowden, the Cancer Car program co-ordinator for Vancouver Island, with the Cancer Car vehicle now stationed in Duncan.
Doug Sowden, the Freemasons Cancer Car program co-ordinator for Vancouver Island, with the Cancer Car vehicle now stationed in Duncan.
The Cancer Car vehicle now stationed in Duncan with some of the volunteers running the Freemasons Cancer Car Program in the Cowichan Valley.
The Freemasons Cancer Car vehicle now stationed in Duncan with some of the volunteers running the Freemasons Cancer Car Program in the Cowichan Valley.

Why Have A Cancer Car  Program?

Of the various treatments for cancer, radiation therapy facilities, because of their expense, have been installed only in a limited number of communities in British Columbia. Consequently many patients needing this type of treatment have to travel a considerable distance. The only radiation treatment center on Vancouver Island is in Victoria adjacent to the Royal Jubilee Hospital to which patients requiring this type of treatment travel from all over the Island. While undergoing their treatments, which can last several weeks, most patients stay at the Canadian Cancer Society lodge, 2202 Richmond Road Victoria, BC V8R 4R5,  Phone: (250) 592-2662, where accommodation is provided at a nominal cost.

What Is The Freemasons Cancer Car Program?

In April 5, 1989, the Freemasons of British Columbia, through their Masonic Community Charities Fund, undertook to support the Canadian Cancer Society (C.C.S) Volunteer Driver Program and assist in the transportation of cancer patients from their home area to a treatment facility.

At that time, three five-passenger vehicles were provided by the Freemasons to the Canadian Cancer Society. The entire cost of replacement vehicles, insurance, maintenance, repair and operation of these vehicles was undertaken by the Freemasons for an agreed period of fifteen years, which has now been extended to the year 2017.

Initially the program was designed to serve the needs of cancer patients in Vancouver and the lower mainland. In August, 1991, the program was expanded to meet the needs of patients living on Vancouver Island. Currently  the Island program has five vans operating out of Nanaimo, Duncan, Port Alberni, Campbell River and Courtenay. This program relies on the services of over 200 volunteers, who give freely of their time to dispatch, drive and maintain these vehicles. All told in British Columbia, the Freemasons now operate seventeen vans dedicated to the transportation needs of cancer patients requiring therapy.

Cellular telephones have been installed in all these vehicles to ensure that drivers have direct communications with dispatchers and other vans.

The Freemasons’ Cancer Car Program differs considerably from the majority of the Volunteer Driver Programs throughout B.C. in that ALL DIRECT EXPENSES ARE PAID BY THE MASONIC COMMUNITY CHARITIES FUND AND ALL VOLUNTEERS DONATE THEIR TIME.

For more information, see the Grand Lodge of B.C. & Yukon website.

The Freemasons’ Cancer Car Program On Vancouver Island

The Freemasons’ Cancer Car Program on Vancouver Island presently covers the territory stretching from Mill Bay in the south to the northern tip of the Island, a distance of approximately 500 kilometres.  It serves all communities along the Island Highway and also the Alberni Valley in the middle of the Island.

The program consists of a number of hubs with vans located in Duncan, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Comox-Courtenay and Cumberland (2 vans) and Campbell River.  There is a local maintenance person in each area to ensure the vans are kept in top mechanical and cosmetic condition.

In each hub there is also a local dispatcher who receives from the local unit of the Canadian Cancer Society, or from the Cancer Lodge in Victoria, information about clients needing rides.   The dispatcher consults his roster of drivers and selects one, then informs him of the passengers’ names, pick-up points and times, and times of appointment in Victoria.

Dispatchers coordinate among themselves the loads for the various vans.  Generally, the Comox Valley dispatcher will talk with the Campbell River dispatcher before she arranges rides with Nanaimo.  The Nanaimo dispatcher will work with Port Alberni first, then he will check with Comox Valley dispatcher.  Then the Nanaimo dispatcher will offer “seats” to the Cowichan Valley dispatcher.

The Freemasons Cancer Car Program has various pick up and drop off points along the major highways. People wanting to use the service will have to arrange transportation to/from the pick up/drop off points. Please contact the Cowichan Valley dispatchers for more information on pick up and drop off points.

The vans can run five days a week, if there are passengers.  Our usual sequence is to take passengers to Victoria on Mondays and return them on Fridays; however, if there is sufficient demand we can run vans on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  The maximum number of passengers and drivers per van is six, except for rare circumstances when a short shuttle is needed for one extra person.  For example, if there are 5 clients in Campbell River (and 2 drivers) then the Campbell River van can go to Courtenay and transfer at least one client to a Comox Valley van.

In short, the Canadian Cancer Society tells us of our passengers and in some cases arranges transportation from home to our pick-up point.  The dispatchers arrange the van loads and contact the passengers and drivers to let them know the “when and where’s”.  It is the dispatchers’ role to attempt to maximize the van loads to save costs.  Thus, we do not send down two clients from Port Alberni and three clients from Nanaimo in separate vans.  The Port Alberni van would pick up the Nanaimo clients on the way through.

The dispatcher, or in some areas the maintenance person, forwards to the coordinator at the end of each month the following:   number of patients;  number of drivers; number of trips ( each passenger carrying journey); cost of fuel; and any other pertinent information regarding the vans.

For more information or to volunteer for the Freemasons Cancer Car Program, see www.cancercarsnow.ca

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