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Norway woman wins 2021 Amanda Dempsey Award

Suanne Craib of Norway is battling chronic leukemia and is a co-founder of the Cancer Resource Center of Western Maine, established as a 501c3 in 2015.

NORWAY, Maine — On Saturday, Sept. 25 and Sunday, Sept. 26, hundreds of people will take part in-person and virtually in the 13th annual Dempsey Challenge. Every year, this weekend-long event raises money exclusively for the Dempsey Center, which provides resources and support to cancer patients and their caregivers.

Another feature of the Dempsey Challenge is the Amanda Dempsey Award, named after founder Patrick Dempsey's mother to honor and remember her. This award is given out annually to recognize a Mainer dedicated to the fight against cancer. This year, that recognition is going to Suanne Craib of Norway, who has done a lot for her community.

"I'm very honored to have been chosen for it," Craib told NEWS CENTER Maine about her reaction to winning the award. "It's unbelievable."

RELATED: Maine doctor shares why she participates in the Dempsey Challenge

Craib was diagnosed with a chronic form of leukemia in 2008 and still remembers the phone call from her doctor that changed her life. 

"I heard this name I wasn't familiar with, and you run to the Internet to learn about it -- and that's not always good," Craib chuckled.

She started treatment about three years later after the "watch and wait" period -- and during that time, she began going to the Dempsey Center. The commute wasn't a short one, though -- the drive from her home in Norway took about 40 minutes. 

RELATED: How the Dempsey Center is making an impact nationwide

After treatment, Craib remembers trying to get back to "normal" and running into a friend who had also been affected by cancer and taken interest in the Dempsey Center. They shared similar frustrations about not having resources like that in the Norway area, and Craib's friend mentioned Stephens Memorial Hospital had a new patient navigator. The two women met with the navigator and started a steering committee with community business people, cancer survivors, and caregivers. In 2014, they opened a one-room center, which officially became the 501c3 Cancer Resource Center of Western Maine in 2015.

"I'm sure many people would be surprised at how much joy there is in a center," Craib said about the work they do with programs like support groups, crafting, yoga, and gas cards for transportation to treatment, also noting, "It's not like we just come in here to talk about our illness or our symptoms or whatever. It's usually talking about anything else about that."

RELATED: Register for the global Dempsey Challenge 2021

Craib said the center wouldn't have been able to take off without help from certain fundraisers -- an annual golf tournament at the Norway Country Club and the Turkey Trot run, for example. She said the support from the community has been exceptional and plays into the center's message that no one is alone in their fight.

"Come by yourself. Come with a friend. Just know that you're not alone. There's hope for you," Craib encouraged. 

RELATED: In-person Dempsey Challenge returns in one month

Last week, the center held an open house to show off its new space, moving from a one-room set-up to a small house. Now, the group has an executive director and social worker to help reach even more people. Craib said there are 224 regular clients, and 78 of them are new as of this year.