Spirits of Hope

by Amanda Bedgood

Each year the American Cancer Society honors a handful of people for their efforts in the fight against cancer. The Spirit of Hope awards embody all that ACS stands for - raising awareness, preventing cancer, saving lives and diminishing suffering for those diagnosed with cancer.

Each year the American Cancer Society honors a handful of people for their efforts in the fight against cancer. The Spirit of Hope awards embody all that ACS stands for - raising awareness, preventing cancer, saving lives and diminishing suffering for those diagnosed with cancer. It's an honor bestowed on hope-filled people from volunteers to survivors and doctors - all working in their own way to create a world with more birthdays. These five individuals will be honored Aug. 17 at the Black and White Gala at The Victorian. These are the stories of those men and women in Acadiana on the frontlines in the battle against cancer.

Mitzi and Art Mixon

Photos by Robin May

It was 1999 when Mitzi Mixon was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was living in Trinidad - her husband in Venezuela for work - when she noticed a lump just weeks after a regular checkup. The mother of two soon endured a mastectomy and reconstruction followed by chemotherapy. Her world was quite literally rocked. And in the midst of it all she still remembers the people who stood out as symbols of hope during her ordeal - the survivors.

"When you're first diagnosed you feel like you're the only one in the world. To see people that have dealt with it - it was encouraging to me that there are survivors. It gave me hope," she says.

And now Mitzi is on the other side, with husband Art at her side, and she offers just such hope to those who stood where she once did.

"Cancer doesn't define you," she says simply.

Once the Mixons returned to the states, Mitzi wanted to give back to the organization she turned to in those early days and got involved in the ACS golf tournament. Art soon followed suit, and he now sits on the leadership council where he gladly works to raise funds for the fight against cancer - he knows too well the difference ACS made in their lives.

"I'm so proud of him," Mitzi says. "He gives from his heart."

Art doesn't just work with ACS; Mitzi points to her husband's unique perspective in encouraging families faced with a cancer diagnosis.

"He is able to give hope and guide them as a caregiver," Mitzi says. "People call after their wife is diagnosed and ask what they should do."

In each of their own special ways, the Mixons are giving guidance to those who find themselves where they did just years ago. Art is passionate about the progress ACS is making via research - "they are able to accomplish tremendous things and better the survival rates" - as well as the community involvement for those fighting cancer, like the Road to Recovery that offers rides to treatment for those unable to drive.

Mitzi's fire, you soon learn, lies in early detection and awareness. It's a hard-learned lesson for many and one that saved her own life.

She found a lump but one month after a regular exam. Waiting until her next exam could have, quite literally, cost her her life.

It's a life saved that's now being used to bring hope to many as she shares the truths that only one who's walked the road could ever know.

"It's a fight. But, you can do it. Cancer doesn't define us," she says. "One day you won't think about it when you wake up every day. You can have your life back. That's my hope: that I can be a symbol of hope for those diagnosed."

Patricia Cormier

It was nearly 15 years ago that Patricia Cormier answered the simple request of a friend battling cancer - come to Relay for Life. The all-night event to fight cancer and to honor those who were lost in the battle against the disease was rained out. Volunteers like Cormier found themselves making use of the items donated - taking food to St. Joseph Diner and flowers to area nursing homes. And yet, something in that unusual experience solidified Cormier's devotion to the cause.

To date she's given much time to the American Cancer Society. She's served as team captain for Relay teams, chaired committees and most recently co-chaired the entire mammoth event.

"There's a lot we can all do to keep people aware," she says.

Cormier is a teacher by trade and, it seems, by nature as well. The woman who teaches business courses at South Louisiana Community College finds ways to teach the world about cancer prevention and facts about the disease.

"We are doing what we can to combat cancer. We're trying to celebrate more birthdays," Cormier says of her efforts and those of friends who have joined her along the way.

She has lost friends to cancer, works with many who have survived and sees opportunities around every corner to raise awareness for the disease.

"What drives me are all the people that I come into contact with from friends and family and coworkers. That's what keeps me going. I'll keep helping as long as American Cancer Society is still there," she says.

She's a motivating force, driving others to join the cause as well.

"Get a team together for Relay, have fun. You're raising money and awareness," Cormier says. "I do what I can to make people feel good. I'm going to keep going as long as I'm here. I'm doing what I can so that one day we don't see cancer anymore."

Jeanne Solis

Jeanne Solis is kind of an expert when it comes to cancer. The vivacious woman working with the LA Cancer Prevention and Control Program has faced cancer professionally for years through her roles in state cancer-fighting programs, but it was certainly her own bout with the disease that opened her eyes to the realities of those fighting cancer every day.

In 2008, for personal reasons, she stepped away from her career fighting cancer; shortly thereafter she found herself facing the monster again. This time it was close to home. After years running in Komen races and volunteering for Relay and friends who fought and lost the battle, Solis was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia.

"I turned to American Cancer Society for information to find out what's out there, for support," she says, noting she also reached out to organizations like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

And while she was proactive in finding support and certainly more educated than most about the disease, she was stunned to face a cancer diagnosis after years of taking cancer preventing measures.

"I was shocked, scared and worried and hopeful at the same time," Solis says. "It was about getting through treatment."

Something she did with her signature brand of humor - "laughter is part of healing," she laughs. Solis, you learn quickly, likes to laugh.

She underwent an experimental treatment that means others will learn from what she endured on her road to a cancer free report.
In talking to Solis it's clear that the data gleaned from marrow and blood are not the only ways in which others are learning from this Lafayette woman. She has a spirit that's no doubt inspiring others to lend a hand just as she has and a willingness to help whenever and however she can.

After her break from a career dealing with cancer, she stepped back into the fray in 2011 with fresh eyes.

"I had a new perspective," she says of life after cancer. "We've all known somebody who has struggled through cancer or died of it. This diagnosis brought a whole new meaning and understanding to me and how cancer impacts our families. But I have a lot of hope."
She has hope for a cure and a clear drive to raise awareness about the ways to prevent some cancers. She believes we're on the way to making those healthy choices. And she's doing what she can to make that an even shorter journey to good health.
Says Solis, "I have a great hope for Louisiana and Acadiana to be a healthy place to live."

Dr. Chancellor Donald**

Doctors, we all know, are short on time. Many rush from room to room with little time to answer questions. But there are those gems in white coats who take their time - who never let you know how very packed their schedule truly might be. They answer questions - no matter how insignificant. And with each answer, with each minute, their patients know that this is someone they can trust with their care. Dr. Chancellor Donald is one of these physicians.

The hematologist and oncologist at Lourdes was nominated for a Spirit of Hope award using words like gratitude, humility, sincerity. And he won because those who work with him and those for whom he cares know these words are apt labels.

"He takes time for his patients. He stops. He listens. He's never in a hurry to walk out the door," says Jeannine LaFrance, a nurse practitioner who works with Donald.

While time may not sound like one of the cornerstones of treatment success, LaFrance explains how that - in combination with his expertise - can make the difference in whether treatments succeed for those diagnosed with cancer.

"If they feel they can communicate with a doctor they are more likely to discuss things that are happening during their treatment," she says, noting important symptoms they feel open to share can change the course of treatment. "There is no question that is stupid, [and] because of that they can trust him with their concerns."

It's a trust well earned, according to the office manager who works with Donald, Nancy Lormand. She uses words like compassionate, respectful.

"He goes above and beyond," she says. "He does so much and spends so much time with patients. He won't tell you what he's done for patients. Patients, other people tell us. He gives them as much time and attention as they need."

His patients learn quickly that whatever the outcome, Donald will be there with a listening ear.

"This time is very stressful; it's a life-changing diagnosis," LaFrance says. "You have to have compassion. You need someone that understands that."

They say Donald is a doctor who gets it, the kind who gives his patients more than a treatment plan. He gives them a healthy dose of hope.