Courage in the County: C-A-N-C-E-R focuses on small acts of kindness, caring to bring big hope

     It’s the little things that sometime make the most difference, at least that’s the philosophy volunteers at Caring Area Neighbors for Cancer Education and Recovery practice when they show up at central Aroostook cancer patients’ homes each month with fresh baked goods, or when they deliver tote bags filled with useful items for patients receiving treatments.

     In 1999, Susan Nickerson, current president of C-A-N-C-E-R’s board of directors, along with five other people, Mary MacBride, Susan Black, Craig Green, Bill Guerrette and Marke Wilcox, each whose lives cancer had impacted in some way, decided to do something to make a difference by starting a non-profit group that would offer support to cancer patients in simple, but meaningful ways.

     They found inspiration for structuring their group after they visited the Katahdin Area Support Group in the Millinocket area. “That’s where we got the idea for the bread delivery,” said Nickerson.

     The bread delivery uses multiple volunteers for baking breads and delivering throughout central Aroostook. Each month, a variety of breads and other baked goods arrive at cancer patients’ homes thanks to the coordinated efforts of the C-A-N-C-E-R group.

     “The new patients are very surprised, they’re overwhelmed and very appreciative. Many have turned around and become our best supporters. Some are baking for us every month. Our volunteers are committed,” said Nickerson. “When we first started in the Presque Isle area, we just told people we needed help. In 16 years, I have never had to call to remind anyone to bake.”

     Of course, baking and delivering bread is just one of the valuable services C-A-N-C-E-R provides the community. They offer support, both emotionally and physically, as they are able. This might mean lending an ear or a shoulder when someone needs to vent, or it might mean being a resource for services that offer financial assistance — like helping to locate free flights or reduced rate hotels near cancer treatment facilities in Boston, for instance.

     Often a new cancer patient’s first connection with the group is when they arrive at Aroostook Cancer Care or the cancer care clinic at Cary and receive a specially filled tote bag full of things the patient might need or want with them as they travel for treatments. The canvas totes might contain word puzzle books, wash cloths, toothpaste, tooth brushes, tissues, pencils, paper, Lifesavers candies, hand wash, hand cream, shampoos, pencil sharpeners, and more. The elementary school in Mapleton is a big supporter of the tote bags.

     “They do all kinds of fundraisers, and they help fill the bags with just about anything a person might need  if they’re going away for the day, and they need  to spend a few hours in the clinic,” said Nickerson.

     In 2000, board members Alexis Madore and Kathy Maynard joined the group, and  later, when Wilcox moved away from the area, Louise Calabrese joined the board. The base of operations in the Presque Isle area is right out of Nickerson’s home. She uses her personal phone number for the organization and rallies volunteers whenever there is a need she feels the group can meet, but each member of the group has their own area of expertise to help support cancer patients in the region.

     Confidentiality laws are perhaps the group’s biggest obstacle. Because doctors are not allowed to give out information on patients, Nickerson said identifying people with a need can be difficult. One of her personal goals is to try and reach everybody and to make sure that any person facing a battle with cancer knows what resources are available.

      “It kind of has to be word-of-mouth, (the grape vine),” said Nickerson about how the group contacts people to let them know about their group. “We worry about missing somebody. Some people are very private about it, and that’s up to them.”

     Nearly everyone in the C-A-N-C-E-R group has their own personal connection to the disease that compels them to help others in whatever way they can. Nickerson says about half of the board are cancer survivors. For Nickerson, her connection happened when doctors diagnosed her 4-year-old grandson with stage-4 lymphoma. She remembers hearing the devastating news.

     “It just took the legs out from under me. That was the first awful thing that has ever happened to any of the children in my life. It was scary,” she said.

     For Nickerson’s family, the story has a happy ending. Her grandson survived and grew into a fine young adult. He lives in Bangor now, working as an electrical journeyman. Still, Nickerson will never forget the trying time her family went through as they traveled through the confusing landscape of treatment options and hospital visits.

     “When my family went through all of this, we did not know any of this. We had to figure it all out on our own. When you’re going through this, you don’t know where to turn. When you’re going through this journey of cancer treatments, it’s a scary time, and it’s nice to know there are people who are thinking of you and who are there if you need to talk to them,” said Nickerson.

     Anyone can volunteer to help with the organization, as there’s always something to be done. The experience of volunteering can be emotional and rewarding.

     “It’s the responses we get from cancer patients,” says Nickerson. “I’ve been there and I know what it’s like to go through this. I would love to have had someone come to my door with a bag full of home baked goods. It’s really a good thing we’re doing.”

     Persons interested in volunteering can contact Nickerson at (207)764-6826, or by email to, or by reaching out to any of the other board members.