High River, Alta., residents would have recognized Anne Marie Marshall's beaming smile on any given day at The Salvation Army's Disaster Assistance Centre, but what that smile wouldn't have told you is that while she was diagnosed with breast cancer one week after the flood, she continued to help the town.

Shredded Advice
“I went through chemotherapy treatments every three weeks and every other day I was working at the centre,” says Anne Marie, High River's Salvation Army thrift store manager, “and I had eight treatments before having surgery.”

She is so dedicated to her community that she postponed the start of her treatment by a week because she felt the need to continue to help the residents of High River get back on their feet.

She worked closely with a cancer treatment team in Calgary who kept her focused and constantly reminded her of what she needed to do in order to stay strong.

“The doctors were amazed that I continued to work,” she says. “Working at the centre was my focus so I didn't dwell on what I was going through. It gave me a purpose to get up in the morning and not worry about what the future held.”

Anne Marie's doctors were initially going to give her a note to take six to eight months off work. Her response? “I'll just put it in the shredder and come back when I'm ready to take time off.”

Support Crew
“I approached the disaster team to tell them about my diagnosis because I didn't want it being the elephant in the room,” Anne Marie continues. “I came in to work every day because I knew that this community needed us. We became one of the last resources for people to get support, clothing, food and even answers to the questions they may have had.

“I know I have to look after myself first and foremost but I never missed a day of work until I started these treatments and my staff completely understood when I had to take time off.

“But I had a lot of 'moms' here,” Anne Marie laughs. “Everyone constantly asked me if I had my water or my snack.”

Along with having an immensely positive attitude, Anne Marie is proactive. She was thrilled to find a business that could sew ponytails into four different baseball caps that she wore on a daily basis.

“When I lost my hair—which I did—I still had natural hair.”

In addition to work, Anne Marie enjoys hunting, fishing, camping and off-road biking.

“I don't plan on slowing down anytime soon,” she says. “I want to be here for my community and give back to my community. And I hope to stay at the thrift store as long as I can.”

Anne Marie has a loving and supportive husband who works in Lethbridge, Alta., and came home on weekends to be with her, but he was in constant communication via cellphone to make sure her day was going well.

Crisis to Crisis
Susan Gay, who has worked closely with Anne Marie, says Anne Marie was the “glue” holding the team of Salvation Army workers together.

“She was amazing and I am very proud to work under Anne Marie,” Susan states. “In times of stress, she's unflappable. There's no other way to put it. I've never seen her angry, I've only seen her smile and she is a true joy to work with,” she says.

Garry Pearce, The Salvation Army's re-entry co-ordinator, explains that all of the work Anne Marie did in High River was extremely worthwhile because she rebuilt a community.

“She's gracious and never puts her burden on anyone else,” he says.

Lieutenant Nyree Bond of The Salvation Army agrees.

“Even now as she is going through her own personal crises, she comes to work every day to serve others while they're going through their own personal crises,” she says. “Everyone loves and respects her for being here and working so hard.”

(Story and photo: High River Times, September 9, 2013)

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