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Always ready to give a lift

Andrew Robinson, The Telegram

Published on August 31, 2012

John and Winnifred Kennedy of St. John’s have met some wonderful people over the years through volunteer work, transporting cancer patients to and from the Health Sciences Centre for radiation and chemotherapy treatment.

“We meet people from all over the island, some wonderful people,” said John seated next to his wife in The Telegram’s conference room.

“But people that are primarily interested in not whether it’s snowing or raining out, or whether the temperature is 20 or 30 C. They’re primarily interested in, ‘Am I going to get better?’That’s what’s on their mind.

”This Saturday, the Kennedys will be recognized for their 23 years of dedicated service to cancer patients from across the province as part of the Memories of Music (MOM) Festival.

The event is taking place at Victoria Park in St. John’s to raise awareness about cancer, as well as funds for cancer research.

Winnifred was a secretary with Mary Queen of the World Roman Catholic Parish when she first heard about the volunteer driver program — a fellow parishioner called her to place an item in the church bulletin.

Since she worked part time, she immediately thought it was something she could do. John, too, got involved, and their children helped out when their parents were not available for a pick up.

“The fact of the matter is that somebody has to give them a helping hand, and once you get into it, you meet so many interesting people,” said John.

Winnifred said cancer patients who do not live in St. John’s are placed in a difficult situation when they come to the city to receive treatment.

“They’re out of their home. They’re going through a very difficult time, emotionally and physically. And then along with that, they’re having to depend on strangers to take them to their appointments,” she said.

Out of their element

One of John’s earliest passengers was a man from the community of Black Tickle in southern Labrador.

“He was like a fish out of water in here, because he was used to, during the day, going down to the wharf and speaking to his buddies, talking about fishing and the woods or what have you — typical outport,” said John, who is from Mobile on the Southern Shore.

Driving to the hospital one Friday for the man’s final radiation treatment, John asked him if he was looking forward to going home.“I said, ‘Skipper, I s’pose you’ll be delighted to get home?’ ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘I’ll tell you something now. I’ll never be in St. John’s again. I’ll die on the Labrador coast.’”

Cancer has made its presence felt on both sides of the Kennedy family. John’s mother died as a result of cancer, as did Winnifred’s mother and brother.“It hits just about every family,” she said. “I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t have either a good friend or a relative that cancer has taken.

”Typically, the Kennedys are called for one ride a week. In the case of radiation treatment, John said he will usually drive down with the patient and wait for them to finish before bringing them back to their temporary residence. For chemotherapy, which can take two to four hours, he will usually drop them off and come back later to pick them up.

Among the more memorable passengers John can recall riding with is a 92-year-old man who took an interest in John’s father’s involvement in the inshore fishery along the Southern Shore.

Their chats over the course of a few trips back and forth to the hospital eventually turned to sealing. The man, it turned out, had sealed for Capt. Abraham Kean on the Beothic II, and was among those on the trip where the famed ship captain captured his millionth seal.

On a Friday, John asked the man if he would be heading home the following week. The 92-year-old said he would be taking the bus the next day to tackle a pile of birch wood he needed to saw for the winter.

“That’s what was keeping him going.”

With 23 years of driving cancer patients to and from hospital appointments under their belt, Winnifred said they both have plenty to be thankful for.

“In our own families, we’ve had so many who’ve passed away with cancer. You need support, and these people who are away from their families and going through a difficult time, they need support. It comes back to you 100-fold.”

John Kennedy adds they have received Christmas cards from all over the island. Beyond their volunteer work driving cancer patients, the Kennedys are also involved with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, helping provide food for people in need.

Terry MacEachern, founder of the MOM Festival in St. John’s, has three friends with cancer and has lost eight to the illness. He said the Kennedys have shown a great commitment to helping people with cancer.

“When you see the time these people put in, it’s pretty amazing what they do,” he said.

People interested in volunteering to drive cancer patients to appointments should contact the Canadian Cancer Society’s eastern region office in St. John’s by calling:



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