Where Help Is an All Wheel-Drive

Terry

In these 12 years, Aldridge has driven 47 patients to the Vancouver Cancer Clinic.

By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: April 11, 2015

TERRY Aldridge sat sipping his coffee at Tim Hortons when Lail Weeks walked up to him with a request.
Would he be willing to drive Squamish cancer patients to their appointments in Vancouver?
Aldridge knew Lail from the school board, where he had retired after serving as a bus driver for nearly 31 years.
Aldridge  agreed to volunteer.
This would be his 12th year of driving cancer patients to the city for treatment, making him the longest-serving volunteer.
Having spent his entire life in Squamish, Aldridge is deeply connected to the town. Part of a pioneer family that first made Squamish their home in early 20th century, Aldridge  followed in his father Ed Aldridge’s footsteps to work in the PGE for 19 years and later at the school board for 31 years.
Now living a retired life, he plans to keep volunteering for this transportation service provided by the Canadian Cancer Society.
“I can’t say I enjoy it, but it’s really satisfying and gratifying to help someone in the community,” he says.
Driving down to Vancouver every day or even a few days a week can feel like a burden even for those who are healthy. For those suffering from cancer and their family members, it can be extremely tiring.
For those who have to go every day, it can also get expensive in fuel and parking costs.
Drivers such as Aldridge are a godsend for patients like Danielle Childs. She first called up the program coordinator when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and has used the program for more about 15 times with Aldridge  driving her several times. In fact, it
was Aldridge who told her about the program.
It’s important to trust the person that drives you down to the city, Childs says. “Terry is a very funny man and we told each other a lot of jokes,” she says.
Inspired by the selfless service of drivers like Aldridge, Childs also decided to volunteer for the program. Being a patient and now a driver herself has taught her a lot about life and living it to its fullest extent, she says. “Every minute of every day is precious and you really don’t know about life until something threatens it.”
In these 12 years, Aldridge  has driven 47 patients to the Vancouver Cancer Clinic. He works once a week. He has volunteered with the fire department and ambulance service too for over 20 years. He has seen it all, which makes him far better prepared for his volunteer gig.
Aldridge is a talker. When he meets a new patient, he tries to get them to talk about their life, their job, and about their cancer. It shortens the trip for one thing, but also allows Aldridge  to build a human bond. 
“I like them to open up and talk about their life, their interest, their history,” he says.
While there are new patients he gradually gets to know, there are others who have worked with him in the railways. “It’s fun for them to remember the old times, and they seem to enjoy the trip,” he says.
 A few people Aldridge helped bring to Vancouver have passed away. While some had made peace with their predicament, there were others he saw who were just not ready for what was coming.
His long volunteer work at the fire department and ambulance has toughened him up, but it’s also a defence mechanism for him to continue, he says. What gets him, however, is the sight of young girls at the cancer clinic in Vancouver. “It’s hard to see them, they have an entire life ahead of them,” he says.   
But there are bright spots of optimism also. He recently met a man outside Save on Foods, whom he recognised instantly as one of the patients he had driven to Vancouver. The man had recovered and profusely thanked Aldridge for his services. He also recalls a patient from back east who had no family in Squamish. The patient would often mention how such a facility was lacking in his home town and he would probably not make it if it wasn’t for guys like Aldridge.
“It makes you feel pretty good when you hear things like that,” Aldridge says.
Even though his volunteer gig brings him in close touch with death and suffering, it has failed to stir any fear in Aldridge .
It was Lail Weeks who helped start the program. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Weeks realised there was no service available, and she faced the prospect of numerous trips to the city. Hearing other cancer patients face the same daunting problems, she called up the cancer foundation and helped start the program in Squamish.
There are 10 drivers in the program: Danielle Childs, Terry Aldridge, Harvey Halvorson, Pauline McNeney, Jim Sims, Bill McDonald, Rick Brzezowski, Leslie Tenta and Donna Battaglia. 
The drivers give on average a day a week of their time to drive clients to the city for primary treatment which includes surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, says program coordinator, Grace Halvorson, who has been coordinating the program since 2008.
Halvorson said the drivers
drive their own vehicles. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, please contact her at hghalv@shaw.ca or 604-898- 3072. If you are a cancer patient and require a ride, please call 1-855-215-5462.
Halvorson says drivers need a clear driver’s abstract, $3 million dollars liability coverage and participation in a drivers’ clinic.
As for Terry Aldridge, he says he would keep driving people to the city for appointments as long as he is around.

Comments

  1. Gerry McCauley, Nova Scotia says:

    A mountain of a man who is going to leave a very big footprint to be filled. I am disappointed to read that the drivers must use their own vehicles and probably pay for the additional insurance requirements. Thanks to Mr. Aldridge & volunteers like him for taking some of the stress from the families and placing the patients in a more relaxed frame of mind.