On July 9, 2020, former dedicated volunteers at the Salmon Arm office of the Canadian Cancer Society, Brenda Kurtz, Sue Demenok and Missy Blair, stand outside the now-locked doors of the office. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

Salmon Arm Canadian Cancer Society office, B.C.’s first, closes doors after eight decades

Volunteers see the closure as a big loss for the community

After 82 years, a place that’s been a beacon of hope and support for those who have found themselves adrift in the turbulence of a cancer diagnosis has closed.

Salmon Arm was home to B.C’s first unit of the Canadian Cancer Society. According to the July 14, 1938 edition of the Observer, it was formed in July 1938. At that time it was a unit of what was called the Canadian Society for the Control of Cancer.

“We have, during the past few weeks, witnessed the averting of a war that might have cost in lives many millions, but there is a continual war being waged by mankind that cannot be settled by simply gathering around a conference table and airing the differences of the combatants,” wrote W.H. Grant in the Oct. 6, 1938 Observer about the Salmon Arm unit. “This war is all the more difficult to control in that it is insidious in its attack, works below the surface and appears in the most unexpected places. I am referring to the war against disease which is going on now and must continue to go on so long as human beings exist upon the earth.”

The Salmon Arm office, mostly recently at 254 Shuswap St., is now permanently closed.

Read more: Cancer society explains why Salmon Arm Relay for Life cancelled

Read more: Canadian Cancer Society celebrates 80 years in Salmon Arm

C0-chairs of the local unit are volunteers Sue Demenok and Missy Blair. They stepped up when the society was no longer funding a paid employee. Blair said the society has been closing rural offices in B.C. and across Canada over the years.

“We were really hoping we could hold on,” she said.

Blair pointed out that since the office moved from Shuswap Park Mall to its Shuswap Street location, more people have been dropping in.

“It definitely will be missed.”

However, the Canadian Cancer Society, whose funds have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, will still provide access to its support programs to people in Salmon Arm. Residents can visit cancer.ca or call the toll-free helpline at 1-888-939-3333 for information.

The good news locally, Blair said, is that Shuswap Hospice Society has agreed to provide space and resources. The unit’s wig room and its prostheses for breast cancer survivors will still be available, now at the hospice society’s office at #4 – 781 Marine Park Dr.

Read more: 2015 – Canadian Cancer Society honour volunteers

Read more: 2018 – Salmon Arm women donate more than three feet of hair for cancer society

Blair’s introduction to the Salmon Arm office came years ago when she was looking for a wig for a family member with cancer. Overwhelmed at the time, she was grateful for the help.

“For me it was a lot of comfort.”

It’s not unusual for visitors to the Salmon Arm office to be moved to tears when choosing a wig, Blair said. Some women, for instance, would otherwise not be able to afford one.

Brenda Kurtz, a three-time cancer survivor, has been a volunteer with the Salmon Arm office since 1995 when it was in the basement of the art gallery, even doing canvassing before that. When she first started she was looking for a long-term survivor of her cancer. She found two.

She, like Blair and Demenok, is very disappointed. The women talk about all the fundraisers and all the wonderful people who have volunteered. Most were survivors, some were retired nurses. They listened to people who didn’t want to bother family with their concerns and provided information about resources.

Kurtz referred to longtime volunteer Bruce Leggett, who organized the door-to-door April Daffodil campaign for years.

Senia Howard was the founding member of the office. The library was donated on behalf of Ellen Porteous.

Blair said the unit is something to be proud of, to run an office with volunteers for so many decades.

Read more: Luminary Walk provides solace in absene of Relay for Life

Read more: 2014 – Dare to dream at Relay for Life

The Relay for Life ran for 15 years, the last one in 2018. It raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. And the Luminary Walk remembered survivors and those who weren’t. Volunteers also did projects, such as raising awareness at the high school about smoking, or about skin and the sun at the children’s festival.

“It’s a big loss for the community,” Demenok remarked.

Kurtz summed up what volunteers are feeling.

“I feel very sad and very disappointed for the people who need us. I think people like to see a face when they’re looking for answers.”

A spokesperson for the Canadian Cancer Society wrote in an email that the pandemic has stopped fundraising activities for the foreseeable future, so costs must be reduced in order to sustain much-needed programs.

“We are anticipating a roughly 40 per cent ($80 million) drop in revenue this year due to event cancellations, changes in philanthropy as people and companies face new financial stresses, and reductions in investment earning…”

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Brenda Kurtz, longtime volunteer with the Canadian Cancer Society’s Salmon Arm office, is one of many people disappointed that the office was recently closed. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

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