NORWAY — When Barbara Deschenes was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, she felt conflicting senses of fear, confidence and resolve. She had a lot questions. 

“You’re not expecting a cancer diagnosis — and who is?” Deschenes said.

Cancer-free since 2012, Deschenes and a group of survivors have set up the region’s first cancer center to help patients navigate the emotional terrain of diagnosis, treatment and what to do with life after facing the prospect of death. 

“You’ve got to put it behind you and say, ‘No, it’s not coming back,’ though there’s always the fear it will,” she said. 

Recently launched, the Cancer Resource Center of Western Maine at 199 Main St. occupies a small room in the oncology building of Stephens Memorial Hospital. Open to men, women and children affected by cancer, volunteers host a monthly cancer support group for women, and offer knitting, a lending library and resources.

Founders have big dreams for the space. Eventually, Deschenes, who moved to Scarborough after treatment, said she sees it offering exercise and nutrition programs, support groups, massage vouchers and yoga classes.

A local cancer center seemed logical when Stephens Memorial Hospital started offering chemotherapy infusions in 2012. After hearing the emotional survival stories, Patti-Ann Douglas, the hospital’s cancer patient navigator, realized something ha d to be done. An informal group started meeting at the hospital and soon grew beyond the confines of the hospital. 

“We have two terrific cancer centers in South Portland and Lewiston, (but) many patients can’t get transportation or aren’t well enough to travel to a support group 40 minutes away,” Douglas said.  

After visiting several cancer centers in South Portland, Lewiston and Ellsworth, they drew up a model and started raising funds.  

One goal, according to co-founder Suanne Craib of Harrison is to get the word out that they’re here to help. 

“Cancer interrupts life, and when you pick it up again, it’s not where you left off,” Craib said.

Cancer-free after fighting off leukemia, Craib, 61, said the center’s aim is to complement the medical treatment received at the hospital and fulfill a niche just as crucial to overall health: spiritual and emotional well-being. 

“When your treatment is up, you wonder, ‘Where do I go from here?'” Craib said. 

Co-founder David Wilson of Norway, 74, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011. When the time for surgery came, doctors discovered he also had blood cancer. Wilson is in remission and said the episodes were a wake-up call. 

“We’re trying to build something that can help people,” he said. 

Organizers are applying for nonprofit status, searching for board members and are starting a capital campaign in order to hire an executive director.  

They’re also asking local businesses to offer free or reduced services, such as spa treatments or wigs. But other services — hugs and reassurances — require no money at all. 

“This is about hope,” Deschenes said. 

The center’s hours can be found on their Facebook page or posted at the hospital’s oncology building. 

[email protected] 

The Cancer Resource Center of Western Maine is open periodically throughout the summer from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the following dates, and whenever the ‘open’ flag is out:

June 6, 18 and 26 

July 9, 24 and 30 

Aug. 20 and 28 


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