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Serving Spokane: Volunteer finds purpose, family at Discovery Shop

Phoebie Hensley is the treasurer for the American Cancer Discovery Shop on Garland Avenue in Spokane. (Dan Pelle)
Phoebie Hensley is the treasurer for the American Cancer Discovery Shop on Garland Avenue in Spokane. (Dan Pelle)

You may call it many things, but don’t call it a thrift store.

At least not while Phoebie Hensley is within earshot.

Hensley is the treasurer at the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop on Garland Avenue, where she’s volunteered since 2009.

She’s also president of AARP Spokane Chapter 384.

“I guess I do have a full-time volunteer job,” Hensley said, sounding a little surprised.

Before her volunteer career began, she always had a busy life, even after she retired with her husband in 1987.

Together, they spent a year traveling around the United States in a motor home.

At one point, they owned homes in Arizona and Washington, traveling frequently back and forth.

“I was very, very busy,” Hensley said.

When her husband died from cancer in 2003, she found herself reeling, trying to figure out what to do next.

She began helping her daughter with her candle business just north of the Garland District, but a traffic accident injured her daughter so severely she had to stop making candles.

“It was just too heavy for her,” Hensley said.

Yet it was the candle business that brought Hensley by the Discovery Shop. One day she just stopped in – and she never left.

After a couple of months working at the counter, she was asked to become co-chairman of the shop.

“Six months later they asked me to become chairman. I did that for three years,” Hensley said. Now she’s on her third year as treasurer.

There are about 60 volunteers at the shop, and most of them have a personal experience with cancer.

“Some have lost husbands, mothers, brothers and sisters and friends,” Hensley said.

Every day, shoppers and donors share their cancer stories in the shop, but it’s not as depressing as it may sound.

“They also share stories about the hope they have, about being in remission,” Hensley said.

Cancer treatment falls on a spectrum of medical treatment – surgery, chemo, radiation – at one end, and doing absolutely nothing at the other end.

“People choose the treatment they choose, or they choose no treatment,” Hensley said. “They are in charge of themselves.”

Her husband chose hospice and for the last six months of his life, that’s where Hensley went to see him every day.

“We talked about all these things,” Hensley said. “What was I going to do when he was no longer there?”

Hensley said many of the volunteers at the shop are women who live alone and share a story similar to hers.

“They are like sisters to me,” she said, gesturing at the backroom where volunteers were busy cleaning and organizing donations.

Her other volunteer gig takes up less time, but is equally as important to Hensley.

As president of AARP’s Spokane Chapter 384 – which has 92 members – she’s in charge of putting on a monthly chapter meeting, which often includes a speaker.

Lately, programs have focused on the many scams that target seniors.

“I see AARP as an information highway,” Hensley said. “We get people together to communicate.”

Hensley said 22 of the AARP chapter’s members volunteered 4,041 hours at 39 different organizations last year.

She can’t imagine a life without volunteering and she said there are so many different places where people can volunteer.

“It gives you a reason to get up in the morning, to get dressed and to go,” Hensley said. “It makes me happy. I don’t get depressed and I always have something to do.”


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