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Volunteers needed to drive cancer patients

by HANNAH NEFF
Staff Writer | February 2, 2022 1:00 AM

A nonprofit is looking for more volunteers to drive cancer patients to their treatments.

Cancer Can’t, based in Spokane but serving cancer patients all over the Inland Northwest, is in need of drivers from Idaho to help transport Idaho patients.

“Our program has grown that dramatically over the years,” said Emily Grankowski, director of outreach.

The newest program, transportation, started with just a couple volunteers bringing a few patients a month to treatments. In two years they grew to over 55 volunteers, offering over 324 rides to patients in January.

About eight months ago they started reaching out to drive Idaho patients, partnering with Beacon Cancer Care in Coeur d’Alene to try to provide rides for as many patients as possible.

Most volunteer drivers, however, are based in Spokane, so providing rides to patients in Idaho is harder.

“It’s a lot of miles,” Grankowski said. “If I could get volunteers all over Idaho to drive patients that live in Idaho we would have a really great program.”

Volunteers range from college kids, stay-at-home moms, retired folks and people who just have a few free hours to lend a hand.

Many of the volunteers have some kind of connection with cancer, whether they are a survivor or had a family member with cancer.

Grankowski said she has found that connection to be a common theme and a reason many of their volunteers chose to work with them over millions of other nonprofits.

“I think that’s kind of how we stand out is having that cancer connection and being able to give back after maybe going through it yourself and experiencing how hard it is really to drive yourself,” Grankowski said. “This is a big deal to have a volunteer be able to take you to an appointment.”

Many patients are unable to drive due to side effects from the treatments, and some have prior health issues that have made it difficult for them to travel.

“It has been a tremendous service to our patients and to the community to be able to get these patients to their treatments,” Wendy Jo Collins, care coordinator for Beacon Cancer Care, said.

Collins said she wanted to emphasize the void that volunteer drivers have filled for their cancer patients in treatment.

Ron Thompson, a volunteer driver from Coeur d'Alene, said he enjoyed the interaction he received through meeting patients and driving them to appointments.

“There’s like this instant connection with them,” Thompson said. “I’ve had just really great conversations with these people about their lives and their families and got to really just know them on a personal level.”

When Thompson first started driving, he had one patient he had only driven for a couple weeks before she passed away. Thompson said that left a big impact on him.

“I was kind of surprised how hard it hit me,” Thomson said. “Only known her for a couple of weeks from driving, but just because of the time together just talking that was like, ‘Oh my gosh. This is a friend I just lost.’”

Even though it can be emotionally difficult, Thompson said getting to help the patients has been a blessing for him as well.

“It’s been really nice to be able to get to know these people,” Thompson said. “It’s just been a blessing just to be with these people in their time of need.”

Cancer Can’t President and founder Rebecca Van Keulen said oftentimes the volunteers say they get just as much from helping as the patients do from having a consistent way to access care.

The nonprofit was started seven years ago by Jonathan and Rebecca Van Keulen of Spokane.

Jonathan Van Keaulen was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2014, and while going through treatments, he and his wife realized there was no nonprofit in the area focusing on helping adult cancer patients.

Since then, Rebecca Van Keulen has continued to run the nonprofit purely through volunteer work after her husband passed away.

Aside from their transportation program, Cancer Can’t also has several other programs to help cancer patients.

These include a grant program that gives away about $40,000 in grants every year to patients who need help with smaller bills; Cancer Can’t take Christmas, a program that provides Christmas gifts to cancer families; a partnership to provide new unopened prescription drugs for free to patients through local pharmacies in Wash. and a yearly fundraising auction.

This year’s auction will be held at Settlers Creek in Coeur d’Alene on Sept. 10. For tickets or to be a sponsor: cancercant.com.

Grankowski said their newest endeavor is starting a hotel partnership program to provide free or discounted stays for patients that have to come from far for treatments.

“(Cancer Can’t is) just a tremendous asset to the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area to serve patients that’s lives have been negatively impacted by cancer,” Collins said.

For those interested in volunteering, contact Grankowski directly at 509-731-3076 or emily@cancercant.com.

Volunteers must provide their own vehicles and insurance, be at least 21 years old and be willing to go through a background check and driving record check. Cancer Can’t partners with a nonprofit to provide secondary car insurance.

Volunteers will be reimbursed monthly for mileage.

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Grankowski

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Founders of Cancer Can't, Jonathan and Rebecca Van Keulen, pictured with their sons, from left, Jax and Jude. This photo was taken in when Jonathan was first diagnosed with bone cancer in 2014. Courtesy of Rebecca Van Keulen