The 'Simplot People Helping People Radiothon' is taking place this week in Portage la Prairie beginning Thursday. Central Plains Cancer Services executive director Sharilyn Knox.

"This is our second year for the Radiothon," explains Knox. "It was an idea that we've thrown around for quite a while and we've partnered with Golden West last year. We're just excited about it. It's powered by Simplot. They jumped on board last year to be the main sponsor and it was a no-brainer that they were a 'yes' again this year. Simplot is an amazing company in our community and in our region. They're always helping out and they're always giving back."

She says Simplot does a lot of what you see out in the community.

"This Radiothon really focuses on our transportation because it is our biggest service, and we serve so many communities in our region -- over 70," continues Knox. "We go as far West as Minnedosa. Erickson, up north to McCreary, down South to Swan Lake, Somerset area, and then east to Elie. We have just over 100 drivers that are volunteers who transport people to their appointments in major cancer centres or other cancer care locations. Throughout our region, we do have opportunities such as Portage Hospital which has cancer care units. It's the same with Neepawa. So, those might be places that people are going for chemo."

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Knox says living in rural areas, people have to get somewhere for cancer treatments. She notes they want to ensure that drivers are there to get them to where they need to go. 

"We've been told many times that if we weren't here, people wouldn't go for treatment," adds Knox. "We often think of that. It's life-saving when our volunteer drivers are driving people for chemo or their appointments. They're saving people's lives and giving them the opportunity to get through their cancer journey and diagnosis."

She says the pandemic didn't stop them from continuing their services and they were one of the only transportation volunteer organizations that continued to operate at that time. Knox says their Board of Directors and team sat down at the beginning of the pandemic and made the decision that they had to find a way to continue helping people. That's exactly what they did.

"We worked with our drivers, found safe ways for them to take people to and from, and we just continued to be there for people," continues Knox. "I can tell you that during that time, there were people who were outside of our region who could not get to where they needed to go. I worked with Cancer Care Manitoba navigators and we ended up helping people outside of our region that needed it because it's important that people get to those treatments and that's what we're here for." 

She notes they set a goal of $50,000 last year, not knowing what to expect in their first Radiothon. 

"We raised $77,000. So, this year we have set the goal, we've added to the Radiothon, and we're doing some live-on-locations in different communities, and our goal is $100,000," says Knox. "I think it'll be great. We're doing live-on-locations with Stride Credit Union. They have become a great partner in this and we're doing live-on-locations at their branches in Gladstone, Neepawa, and MacGregor. We're also doing the live-on-location down in Treherne this year." 

Every hour during the Radiothon, a different business will be sponsoring. 

"You'll be able to hear those throughout the couple of days. We also partnered with Toyota again this year. Last year, Toyota provided a car that if you want to donate, and maybe you aren't comfortable with making an online donation, or you can't get to the radio, you can give us a call, somebody will drive right to you, and pick it up. It doesn't matter where you live. If you even if you live in McCreary and you want to donate, we will come and get it."

She says people took them up on that offer many times last year, and they're excited to see that happen again. Knox adds Boston Pizza is on board, also, and part of a lunch purchase price goes right to the Radiothon.

Knox adds the drivers are a big part of the program, noting they personally get a lot out of helping out. 

"They make friends. They learn that sometimes, from the conversations they have with people, that they're just a real strong listening ear for people because people need connection. I've heard that sometimes, patients say that they'll tell their drivers things that they won't even tell their family. I often hear stories about picking up a new patient, taking them into Winnipeg. The car ride to Winnipeg to Cancer Care Manitoba is silent and it's quiet. You can tell in the car that the person going to their appointment is quite nervous about what's going to happen. And then it all changes when they pick them up and drive them home. Either it's good news, or it's sometimes bad news. But then they open up and have a good conversation with the driver. So, drivers know that they're there to support people, and that's just huge to get them through what they're going through."