With her diagnosis, the CEO of the North Texas cancer support group is now a grateful customer

Mirchelle Louis makes her living facilitating the cancer journey for anyone who opens the red door at one of the three Cancer Support Community North Texas locations. No matter where you are in your treatment, no matter your age, profession, doctor, background or beliefs, if cancer has touched your life, you are welcome in the embrace of the non-profit organization lucrative.

“It’s not a sad place,” said Louis, who started working with Cancer Support Community in 2006 and became CEO in 2016. “You see people laughing and playing bingo.”

Each location — in Dallas, Tarrant, and Collin counties — is intimate and inviting, with comfy sofas and a kitchen. And it’s free. No medical treatment is offered. Instead, weekly support groups are held for people with breast cancer and metastatic cancer, for those who have completed treatment, and for teens, spouses and survivors.

Mirchelle Louis, executive director of Cancer Support Community North Texas, cuts fabric for a tote bag at the group’s facility in Fort Worth.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

This is only part of what is offered to people with cancer. There are yoga, tai chi, art, and cooking classes; meditation and mindfulness sessions; and bereavement workshops. Many offers are in Spanish and English. Most are still virtual, but some are in person.

“We call these clubs,” Louis said. “Everyone has a red door: A) because they stand out, and B) because they bring hope. It takes so much courage to walk through the door and say, “I’m a cancer patient. » »

After being diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2021, it was Louis who said so.

“Things happened pretty quickly,” said Louis, whose three older sisters were also diagnosed in the past 10 years and whose father had prostate cancer. “It was kind of surreal to think that you start a normal day, and two to three weeks later you have to rethink everything.”

She’s not saying, she hastens to add, “to say that in a terrifying way.”

Instead, she’s very serious about her treatment, her neuropathy and fatigue, her hair loss, and wearing a wig (more for others’ comfort than her own, says- she). She has had four cycles of one type of chemotherapy, 15 weekly treatments of another, and is undergoing radiation therapy daily for six to seven weeks. What she handles on a personal level helps her better connect with clients and what they are feeling and going through.

“My own cancer experience allows me to speak with authenticity and authority about the impact of cancer,” Louis said. “I feel like I have an added responsibility to talk and talk and do more.”

Cancer has also shown her that the support community she leads makes a difference.

“The CSCNT does everything right,” she said. “This organization has positioned me to thrive through my experience. Everything I thought was true about needing cancer support is true, and more.

The problem, however – what she says “disturbs me a lot” – is hearing clients tell her, “I wish I had known you six months ago.

Tens of thousands of people in North Texas are diagnosed with cancer every year — 140,000 in all of Texas — and yet, she laments, “we don’t even see 10% of it.”

Claire Scherer (left) and Mirchelle Louis, Executive Director of Cancer Support Community...
Claire Scherer (left) and Mirchelle Louis, executive director of Cancer Support Community North Texas, meet at the group’s offices in Fort Worth.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

One of those they see is Claire Scherer. Five months after Scherer was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2018, a friend told him about Cancer Support Community.

“Trying to navigate between a cancer diagnosis and treatment, and trying to figure out the outcome, can be extremely difficult,” said Scherer, 50, who lives in Fort Worth. “But from the first phone call to CSCNT, it was a remarkable experience.”

As soon as she walked through the red door, she said, “I was in awe. It is warm and welcoming and is designed to feel like a second home. It became that for me.”

She joined the Metastatic Cancer Support Group, which continued to meet virtually during the pandemic. She also enjoys CSCNT’s art classes, cooking classes, and talks from experts who talk about treatment, clinical trials, palliative care, and nutrition. Her husband participated in a support group and accompanied her to several events.

“It provides an opportunity to connect with others,” Scherer said, “to hear their stories and tell yours. Absolutely, I’ve made friends. As we go through our cancer journeys, we learn to learn about each other’s family life, our places of work, we talk about our children, about things in our lives other than cancer, it has helped me to feel less alone.

Victoria Scarborough (right) uses hot glue to make a tote bag at Cancer Support...
Victoria Scarborough (right) uses hot glue to make a tote bag at the Cancer Support Community office in Fort Worth.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

And when the people she met beyond the red door die, she feels surrounded by support and comfort. Her emotional and mental health has been strengthened through her participation in the cancer support community, she said.

“It doesn’t just affect me,” Scherer said. “As I become emotionally healthier, I pass it on to my family, friends and loved ones, and it makes the experience more enjoyable. I can’t imagine what the trip would have been like without this group .

In this community, says Louis, “you realize how important it is to have people close to you. You can tell them things that you might not want to say at home. But here you can say anything. We want customers to experience a warm welcome and a sense of relief to have found this place of support. When they leave, we hope they will be hopeful and even excited about the opportunities ahead to live their lives and perhaps even thrive throughout their cancer journey.

Advice for patients

From her own experience, here are some tips that Mirchelle Louis offers to people facing a cancer diagnosis:

Remember that even if the diagnosis is overwhelming, you are still in control. Ask your doctors questions. Talk about whatever you want. Take into account in your treatment what is important for your quality of life.

Take care. Focus on yourself and what will help you get better.

Try to maintain your regular schedule.

Take your treatment one step at a time.

Eat healthy foods, get enough rest, and eliminate as much stress as possible.

how to help

Cancer Support Community North Texas is hosting its annual Red Tie Gala on April 29 at the Empire Room, 1225 N. Riverfront Blvd., Dallas. For tickets or other ways to donate time or money, go to cancersupporttexas.org

Virginia S. Braud