Every day, there are cancer patients in the Spokane area who need a ride to doctor appointments, radiation treatment or chemotherapy sessions. Cancer Can’t, one of the local organizations dedicated to providing those rides, is looking for volunteer drivers so they can increase the number of cancer patients they help.
Director of Outreach Emily Grankowski said she partners with Catholic Charities, which has a ride program of its own.
“They help with background checks and insurance for our drivers,” she said.
She spends a lot of her time on the phone with people like Cancer Care Northwest patient navigator Amanda Zahara.
“Pretty much, every day, we’re on the phone together trying to arrange rides,” Grankowski said.
Zahara said her job is to help cancer patients in any way she can, including finding them hotel rooms for free or at a reduced rate if they’re coming to Spokane from out of the area and getting them information on support services.
“It’s my job to know the ins and outs about how all the resources work,” she said. “Transportation is such a huge piece of it. They’re already trying to manage their schedule, manage their treatment, manage their symptoms. It’s one less thing to worry about.”
The rides don’t cost the patient anything because they are provided by volunteers. Caner Can’t has 17 volunteer drivers who can provide between 75 and 100 rides a month.
“We’re always trying to recruit more,” she said.
Some patients only need rides occasionally for appointments scheduled weeks in advance. Others need daily rides for radiation treatment or might need a ride on short notice. Patients usually arrange for the rides through a patient navigator like Zahara or a social worker, who reach out to Cancer Can’t or another organization.
Volunteer drivers have to be over age 21, have insurance and be able to pass a background check. Applications are available online at cancercant.com.
Grankowski said drivers are reimbursed 50 cents a mile. “We have funding for that from Catholic Charities and Cancer Can’t,” she said.
People can indicate when they are available for rides. Drivers will get a text or a phone call if someone needs a ride.
“There really aren’t any restrictions on times or days,” Grankowski said. “You can set your own schedule.”
Some of Grankowski’s volunteer drivers are retired, but not all of them are.
“That’s great, because they’re more available,” she said of the retirees.
Zahara said she’s known drivers and patients who became friends after frequent rides together. Sometimes patients will even request a specific driver.
“A lot of these patients don’t have a support system,” she said. “If they did, they’d be getting a ride from them.”
Giving someone a ride to the doctor or to treatment seems like a simple thing, but it’s really very important, Zahara said.
“I feel like it’s something so easy to provide, so easy to give, yet it means so much to the patient,” she said. “It can be literally life and death.”
Zahara said last year there was a volunteer driver who often took the same patient to his appointments and had gotten to know him well. As she was taking him home one day, she noticed he didn’t look well and kept reaching toward his chest. The patient insisted he was fine, but she took him to the emergency room, where doctors determined he was having a heart attack.
Zahara said other ride options, such as paratransit, often don’t work well for cancer patients because riders have to give a firm drop off and pick up time in advance. Uber and Lyft aren’t a good fit because the driver stays in the car and patients might need assistance getting to the car, she said.
“We need that personal attention,” she said.
Many people who sign up to volunteer do it simply because they want to help, Grankowski said.
“Probably all of our volunteers have some kind of connection to someone who has had cancer,” she said.