12 March 2024

Kevin prepares to close the door on his 20-year journey supporting Illawarra cancer patients

| Michele Tydd
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Man standing next to car

Kevin Locke is preparing to retire after 20 years volunteering as a driver with Illawarra Cancer Carers. Photo: Margaret Locke.

Kevin Locke, a volunteer driver with Illawarra Cancer Carers, has come up with some surprising figures as he nears the end of almost two decades of service.

“I calculated that the mileage I’ll have clocked up transporting people to and from Wollongong Hospital for their treatment over 17 years will be around 34,000 km, equivalent to driving to London and back,” he says.

He is in a clearing-out-your-desk reflective mood because in November he will turn 75, which is the cut-off point for volunteer drivers.

Kevin started with Illawarra Cancer Carers 20 years ago soon after he retired as a human resources manager at BHP at Port Kembla (now BlueScope).

“My first role was helping to collect wine corks to raise money through recycling. When the corks became redundant after screw tops came in, I became a driver,” he says.

That role had great significance because both his parents had cancer, so he and his two brothers had to drive them to Sydney for their cancer treatment before the Illawarra got its own facility.

READ ALSO Dedicated volunteers give cancer patients a lift with restored mobility aids for $1

“Even though we now have an excellent cancer centre at Wollongong Hospital with its skilled and compassionate staff, it’s not always easy for some people to access without a service like ours,” he says.

“The majority of my passengers are over 50, and it’s common when people age, their support network diminishes.

“They are always so grateful when we collect them at their home and deliver them back home when treatment is finished.

“Even for those who are independent and can drive, it can be tough to get yourself to the hospital when not feeling well, and on top of that have to find rare car parking within easy walking distance.”

Kevin sees his role as more than transport.

“Drivers usually become a valued part of our passengers’ overall support team,” he says.

“A lot of my elderly passengers live alone, so often they love a good yarn, and I’m happy to oblige.

“They might talk briefly about their illness, but we don’t dwell on it because we have lots of other things in common to chat about, like children, grandchildren and day-to-day stuff.”

And there have been many friendships along the way.

READ ALSO Cancer survivors create social group to help support those slipping through the cracks

“One lady who was very special was Elizabeth Poots from Bulli, who I drove to Wollongong Hospital for treatment for six years on and off,” Kevin says.

“From day one, she said, ‘Call me Pootsy’ and she would send me a Christmas card every year – she was a wonderful lady in her 90s who never let her illness get her down.”

There have also been some characters along the way.

“I had a gentleman who lived in an aged-care facility who used to jokingly refer to his hospital trips as ”prison breaks”,” Kevin recalls with a smile.

“One day on the way home he asked me to stop at a pub for a beer. We went to the Open Hearth at Warrawong, where I shouted him a beer because he had no money, and he thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Kevin says there are moments of sadness, usually when transporting young patients in their 20s and 30s, some of whom have children.

“Luckily, those times are outnumbered by positive experiences, especially on days when my passenger returns to the car with news his or her treatment is over, and the doctor does not want to see them for two years,” he says.

“Their relief and happiness is palpable, and you can’t help being caught up in that joy, and that’s very rewarding.”

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