Volunteer drivers needed in northern Alberta as more cancer patients seek support

Road to Hope allowed Angelina Shewchuk to stay home during her treatment and tuck her kids into bed every night. (Submitted by Angelina Shewchuk - image credit)
Road to Hope allowed Angelina Shewchuk to stay home during her treatment and tuck her kids into bed every night. (Submitted by Angelina Shewchuk - image credit)

Giving birth to her third child also delivered some difficult news — Angelina Shewchuk discovered she had invasive cervical cancer.

The mother-of-three would need daily radiation for the first four months of 2017. Treatment was in Edmonton — about 150 kilometres south of her home in Athabasca.

Shewchuk sought assistance from The Road to Hope Community Support Foundation. Volunteers from the organization drive residents in the counties of Lac La Biche and Athabasca to cancer treatments in Edmonton or other communities.

"Because of them, I was able to stay home. I was able to put my kids to bed at night," Shewchuk said in an interview Thursday.

"Honestly, if we didn't have that program, I don't think I would have made it through that situation."

As demand for their service increases, Road to Hope is seeking more volunteer drivers.

Last year, the non-profit agency logged 187 trips and 68,469 km. By the first half of this year, those numbers were already at 133 trips and 43,266 km.

Other than one employee, Road to Hope relies solely on the efforts of its volunteers, who often provide more than transport.

In Shewchuk's case, a driver made her a quilt to protect against the cold during chemotherapy. She said also found comfort, and even counselling, during those drives.

"They have experience with either themselves or a loved one or a friend that has gone through the same thing and they understand what you're going through," Shewchuk said.

"That's a big thing."

One of those drivers is Road to Hope president Blair Norton who has made trips through blizzards and clocked 16-hour days waiting to take patients back home.

He got involved after the death of Mark Froehler, a fellow Kinsman Club member who lived with cancer for 21 years while driving for Road to Hope.

Norton sought out the organization while he was writing Froehler's eulogy.

"They asked me if I wanted to be a volunteer driver. I said, 'Yeah, I'll carry on Mark's legacy'," Norton said.

Blair Norton started as a volunteer driver and now he's president of Road to Hope which received this van from the Kinsman Club.
Blair Norton started as a volunteer driver and now he's president of Road to Hope which received this van from the Kinsman Club.

Blair Norton started as a volunteer driver and now he's president of Road to Hope which received this van from the Kinsman Club. (Submitted by Road to Hope)

Norton recalls taking one passenger — a former truck driver — on a different route through the backroads, every time they made a trip.

At the man's funeral, loved ones shared how much he had enjoyed those scenic tours.

"If that's something that makes a client happy, I'll go down every country road if I have to," Norton said.

It just shows you how good people can still be - Angelina Shewchuk

Road to Hope is the 2008 brainchild of members of the community and Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries (ALPAC), which still provides support and funding.

The service is largely operated on money from fundraising, including the Athabasca Golf Classic this September.

Shewchuk's children have been recognized by the organization for their lemonade stands that pop up in the summer for the cause.

"To see that kind of generosity in your community is overwhelming. It's amazing, but it's almost overwhelming when you're in that position, which is why I think so many of them turn around. After you've been involved with it as a patient, you want to be involved with it as a person just to pay it forward," Shewchuk said.

"You want to do that because it just shows you how good people can still be."