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Cancer survivor finds solace in volunteering with CrossTrainers Canada

Cancer survivor spends time volunteering in town, helping others, despite her ongoing health issues caused by the cancer treatment

Shirley Norman has been a volunteer with CrossTrainers Canada for three years and is known as the “greeter” at A Hand Up Clothing Room in town.

A resident of Beeton for over 20 years, Norman made connections in Bradford through the True Vibe Women’s Bible Study at the CrossTrainers Canada building where A Hand Up Clothing Room is located.  

At the bible studies, Norman met Patti LaRose, executive director and co-founder of CrossTrainers Canada, and Jodi Greenstreet, owner and founder of WOW Living.

LaRose and Greenstreet welcomed Norman with open arms and invited her to participate in the centre’s events, including a Christmas card making session organized by CrossTrainers Canada.

“Patti asked me to volunteer during the card making event,” remembers Norman. “I couldn’t make cards because of my fingers, but Patti just wanted me to talk to people and hang out."

Back in 2017, Norman was diagnosed with uterine cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatments for weeks. The residual effects from the treatments left her with zero feeling in her fingers and toes; a condition called peripheral neuropathy.

After three cycles of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation, Norman has been in remission for over three years but remains on disability due to her condition.

“The centre was looking for someone to sit around and talk to people and be a friend... so, I became the centre’s greeter," notes Norman. "We used to sit on the couches and drink coffee and pray for one another."

Due to Covid, the centre has changed its policies and although Norman still welcomes all past and new clients, she is no longer able to sit outside the clothing room and chat with visitors.  She is now meeting with people in the new Out-of-the-Cold Café in the lower level of the building.

“It’s important to be there, to encourage people, chat, and be a friend," expresses Norman.

Despite the condition of her hands, Norman also volunteers her time at A Hand Up sorting through clothing donations every week.

“The sorting is hard for me with my fingers,” she admits. “But, I do what I can… and it’s fun to do it! I don’t mind doing it."

Before Norman was diagnosed with cancer, she used to have a therapy dog, Samson,  a yellow lab who would accompany her to retirement homes to visit with seniors.

Samson was trained through the St. John Ambulance Canada program and ran through tests to ensure he was compatible with people for visitations. Norman and Samson visited with many people over the course of eight years.

“People with Alzheimer's or dementia love dogs,” she said. “As people get older, they sometimes revert back to children. They would pat [Samson], clap and sing to him… the program is amazing!”

Samson lived until the age of 13 before sadly passing on. But Norman expresses that she would like to get another therapy dog (or puppy to train) so she can visit with seniors again.

“That’s the kind of reward you get when you volunteer,” she said. “You don’t know until you get out there and bless people, even when you’re on disability."

LaRose describes Norman as “the most compassionate person I know! She has learned from her own trials how to truly care for others

Greenstreet adds, “her disability opened the door for incredible opportunity! While she was off work because of her cancer treatments, she started volunteering with [us]… she’s the real deal and people know it. Her authenticity is an invitation for people to be real and share their hearts [with her]. That’s an incredible gift!”

“I’m rewarded by what I do,” expresses Norman. “I’m rewarded by [people's] reactions and how they’re blessed."