Peter Mamer prepares for a busy day driving cancer patients to and from their appointments. Photo by Mark Newman/Metroland

Life of service continues for former teacher

  • October 5, 2022

After years of serving his community as a teacher, Peter Mamer has found another rewarding way of giving back.

The retired Hamilton, Ont., teacher has been assisting local cancer patients, driving them to their appointments to get the care they need.

One of 50 volunteer drivers working with the Cancer Assistance Program in Hamilton, Mamer has been involved with the initiative for the past seven years. He arrives about half an hour before his clients’ appointment to pick them up and drop them off before heading to his next pick-up.

A former teacher in the Hamilton Wentworth Catholic District School Board, Mamer retired in 2005 and volunteers with CAP two or three days a week. Those days are non-stop, dropping off clients and then picking them up when they’re ready for their ride home.

It’s a hectic schedule Mamer keeps. He usually leaves the house at about 7:30 a.m. and gets home around 5:30 or 6 p.m. with back-to-back pickups and drops offs all day and a few breaks worked in. Though that might sound arduous for a retiree, that’s just the way Mamer likes it.

“I’ve told (CAP) from the beginning, these are my days, I don’t want to sit around on those days,” said Mamer. “I want to be busy and moving. So that’s the kind of day it is. Very few breaks and non-stop, go, go, go.”

Before taking on his role, Mamer says he had some concerns as he did not know what it would be like assisting cancer patients on a regular basis. But he’s found the experience to be a positive one.

“I remember having the thought that this might be kind of depressing,” said Mamer. “I mean, you’re around people who are dealing with difficult issues and some of them are suffering, but it’s 100-per-cent the exact opposite. They’re so appreciative of the service and they’re so appreciative of some kind of interaction with somebody who is paying attention to them, dealing with some of their needs, that it’s by and large quite a pleasant experience.”

More than getting cancer patients to their doctors, Mamer is also a kind friendly face to this vulnerable population.

“A lot of them live alone and certainly during COVID that would have been exacerbated. They look forward to some kind of interaction and conversation and some use the opportunity to have social interaction. Mind you, some aren’t feeling well enough to have a conversation and I leave it 100 per cent up to them. If they want to engage in conversation I’m all there, but if they want a quiet ride, well that’s fine with me too.”

The CAP program has been able to run more or less steadily for the past 28 years, even throughout COVID-19 where there were two brief pauses to operations. For the protection of vulnerable passengers who are susceptible to pathogens in the environment, a plastic divider goes behind the front seat to prevent the transference of airborne germs. All clients and all drivers are required to wear a mask.

Mamer says the gift that has carried him through all of these years is empathy. His personal experience assisting his mother through her medical challenges in particular inspired him to continue to give back in this way.

 “My mother went through some serious difficulties in her life,” said Mamer. “When I encounter a client, I often say, ‘How would I treat this person if they were my mother?’ ”

Debbie Logel Butler, executive director of CAP, appreciates the work of Mamer and other volunteers that allow CAP to function.

“The volunteers are all stars,” said Logel Butler. “They’re very passionate, dedicated and many come because maybe someone in their family had used our service and they were so appreciative that they gave back. Others have had family and friends that have obviously been on a cancer journey and wanted to give back. Without (the volunteers) we couldn’t exist.”

Their efforts are particularly helpful due to a post-pandemic surge in clients, she said. And with no government funding, dollars are scarce. CAP relies on support through signature events such as a fundraiser walk, golf tournament, 50/50 lottery and an annual gala, as well as community support.

In addition to transportation, the organization provides equipment loans such as wheelchairs, bed rails, toilet and bath chairs. It also operates a food delivery program.

Mamer shows no signs of slowing down. He is also running for trustee for Ward 6 of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board.

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