NORWAY — It was a natural progression for Sherri Otterson to be hired as the Cancer Resource Center of Western Maine’s first employee as she spends a lot of her free time volunteering at the center, helping clients and organizing programming.
In September, the Norway nonprofit’s board voted to employ Otterson as center supervisor. She’s currently working between 13 and 15 hours a week unless there’s a special event that requires more of her time.
“I think they just felt since I was here and I started as the only volunteer and then the volunteer coordinator and more or less the supervisor, I guess they decided to give a little bonus,” Otterson says, laughing.
The center – located behind Stephens Memorial Hospital’s oncology, cardiology and urology clinics at 199 Main St. in Norway – is a place for cancer patients, caregivers and survivors to come and relax, find support and enjoy a variety of activities.
Otterson enjoys her time volunteering and, now, working at the center. She began volunteering two years ago after she and her husband returned stateside from teaching overseas for 28 years. She started with Stephens Memorial Hospital, volunteering in its thrift store, and moved over to the center when that blossomed first under the hospital and now as its own nonprofit.
“It is just a real positive feeling knowing that I am here and some days no one stops by. All it takes is one person to come in and you help them,” Otterson says. “This place is really nice. People feel like it’s theirs. They know there’s food up in the cabinet. They will go over and get food … if they’re hungry. It’s their safe place. That’s what we try to make it.”
Otterson got the lending library going and now there are other books for adult coloring and Zentangles. There are also wigs donated from the American Cancer Society, hats and scarves for men and women and other comfort items created by volunteers, some from the Progress Center, where Otterson also works.
And don’t forget the origami crane tree donated by a client who folded more than 1,000 paper birds and spread them between the center, the infusion room in the hospital and internal medicine office to bring hope and good luck to those battling various ailments.
Otterson and her eight volunteers listen to their clients and are open to suggestions for any activities they’d like to see at the center or have available to them.
There are activities on Tuesday and Wednesday and the center is open every Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The activities range from reiki to knitting to yoga to guided meditation and many things in between. A new Yoga Warriors session just started last week at Posabilities in Norway and will run through the rest of the month – created for cancer patients, caregivers and survivors.
“It’s just a class for them so they feel comfortable if they’re not quite up to where they were before [they got sick],” Otterson says. “This way the instructors will adapt to them and make it their group.”
After the session is done, she will survey clients to see if it’s a program they’d like to bring back.
Otterson’s husband’s family has been affected by cancer and her own mother died from lung cancer. She knows what it’s like to have to drive far away for doctor’s appointments and treatments. That’s why she’s happy the center is in Norway and is available for people not only in the immediate area, but Bethel, other parts of the Oxford Hills and patients who travel to Bridgton and Lewiston-Auburn.
“I think it’s just nice that we’re here to help the people in the area,” she says.
The center received a $2,500 donation for the new Wellness program, which Otterson says is an area the center was lacking in programming.
“It has the stipulation that is has to be used [for] yoga, reiki, massage, reflexology – anything that will be a hands on for the client for wellness,” she says. The hope is other donations will be made so the program can continue.
In that same vein, after the first of the year, the center will hand out coupons – similar to Lewiston’s Dempsey Center – for reiki. It will include brochures of reiki practitioners who will participate in the program. This is for current cancer patients and their caregivers.
“That will be nice, then they can go together,” Otterson says. And once the reiki coupons take off, the plan is to do the same for massage and reflexology.
While Otterson is the center supervisor, volunteers are needed to keep the center up and running. She has eight right now but is looking to add more. They’d really like a men’s facilitator to help guide men’s groups for the center.
“We’re just finding out men are really different. It is just recently with the nurses coming over [and] they’re saying, ‘Men are being more affected right now [by cancer].’ They just need their time, their way of doing it,” she says about dealing with the disease.
And volunteers would free up Otterson from always manning the afternoon shifts so she could run errands that help keep things going on behind the scenes.
“There is lots of things people can do. The first thing is just being here so the center is open and people can come in,” she says. “Then it’s a benefit if you like doing arts and crafts or chair yoga or something like that. … Even if you like to do yoga, you could be the person who is always at the yoga class.”
Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Otterson at 890-7063. For more information, visit www.crcofwm.org/.