London

Fighting back against the cancer that took his dad, one hospital parking voucher at a time

After cancer took Jim Brown's dad, he raised money and went back to the London cancer clinic at Victoria Hospital to cover the parking fees of patients and their families.

Aylmer man spends the day paying for parking: 'I thought this would be a good way to give back'

After losing his dad to cancer 18 months ago, Jim Brown now makes an annual December visit to the London Regional Cancer Program at Victoria Hospital where he pays the parking fees of other cancer patients who've come for treatment. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

When cancer took his dad 18 months ago, Jim Brown found a way to fight back. 

For months, Brown and his father made multiple trips to the London Regional Cancer Program at Victoria Hospital. 

Like almost everyone else there, they paid $12 to park on their way in to treatment, day after gruelling day. 

For families fighting cancer, parking fees for multiple clinic visits can quickly add up to four figures over a course of treatment. 

After his dad died, Brown wanted to help the people he'd seen in the clinic's reception areas and waiting rooms.

To join his cause, he enlisted the help of his friend and Aylmer neighbour Barry Acheson, who's been battling cancer himself for eight years.

First they raised money during Movember. 

"We grew ridiculous beards and people paid us a lot of money to shave them off," he said. 

The pair then took that money and went back to the waiting room of the cancer clinic at Victoria Hospital. 

Their plan was simple: spend a day leading up to Christmas using the Movember money to help cover patients' parking charges. 

Otto, right, is one of scores of people who had their parking paid by Jim Brown on Thursday. Brown raises the money during Movember, when he grows a beard to have donors pay 'a lot of money' to shave it off. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

"My dad was diagnosed with throat cancer and eventually lung cancer," he said. "During that time we probably visited the clinic 30 or 40 times and at $12 a shot, that's a lot of money. I thought this would be a good way to give back."

It's a simple technique: One of the two men stand at the payment machine, wad of bills in hand. When someone comes to pay, he asks for their ticket and plugs in the money himself. On Thursday, he covered more than $2,000 in parking charges. 

"Oh, my goodness thank you so much," said one women when told her parking was free. 

"My pleasure, Merry Christmas," he says. "You don't have to thank us."

Often, people are reluctant to take the money. 

"People believe it's too good to be true," he said. "I think they think 'Where's the catch? Because it's not often a good deed happens without a catch. Mostly, they're overjoyed. When people come here, they're compromised emotionally."

There can be tears then hugs as people become overwhelmed with gratitude. 

Brown has a sense of what patients and their loved ones are going through as they walk through the clinic doors. 

"I remember being overwhelmed," he said. "I remember being scared. But once we met with doctors and nurses, they're some of the greatest people I've ever met." 

Jim Brown, right, is joined in his efforts by neighbour Barry Acheson, who has been battling cancer himself for eight years. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Acheson, Brown's partner in the parking giveaway, is still battling cancer. It's a fight that's cost him a lung. 

"I'm a patient here as well," he said. "I know what it's like to come here a lot. Parking is expensive, but I don't think it's the money. Why we see such a reaction is the fact that a complete stranger is helping out. That's why you see the emotions that you do." 

Lou Deane was elated to get the break. 

"It's the season for that," she said. "And you share what you can." 

A man named Otto was overwhelmed when Brown told him his parking was paid for. 

"I'm choked up, you know," he said, tearing up. "It's never happened to me before." 

When asked if he comes to the clinic regularly, he could only answer: "Yes, unfortunately." 

Any money left over from the parking giveaway will go to Sakura House, the hospice in Woodstock where Brown's father spent his final days. 

"This is a way to keep his memory alive and for me to heal a bit at the same time," he said.

After losing his dad to cancer 18 months ago, Jim Brown now makes an annual December visit to the London Regional Cancer Program at Victoria Hospital where he pays the parking fees of other cancer patients who've come for treatment. The CBC's Andrew Lupton brings us this story. 5:30

About the Author

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.