Some time ago, I wrote about the importance of staying optimistic.
I was sharing my first-time experience being unemployed, and I said having a positive attitude, especially during tough times, makes a difference.
But imagine dealing with something tougher than unemployment something like cancer.
How do you stay optimistic?
I ran this question by a family friend who knows firsthand.
Maxine Turner Fitts, 58, is vice president of programs and operations at Cornucopia Cancer Support Center.
On the outside, the building at 5517 Durham Chapel Hill Blvd. looks like any other. But inside, as its motto says, is a place where anyone touched by cancer can find support and resources to live life to the fullest.
Fitts knows why remaining optimistic when dealing with cancer makes a difference.
Just this past Valentines Day, she was removed from the drugs she had been taking for five years after her initial breast cancer surgeries to remove a tumor.
The cancer journey never ends, she says. Cornucopia is a little-known treasure. Its a community where you see people often and get to know them.
Preparing to celebrate its 17th anniversary, the nonprofit Cornucopia serves cancer patients and caregivers free of charge. Services include therapeutic massages and Reiki (an Eastern therapeutic relaxation technique), yoga classes, access to acupuncture and group support for starters.
Since the organization moved to its roomier current location in April 2010, participation has gone up over 30 percent. As word has gotten around, Cornucopia has been able to offer more people hope at a time when hope can be elusive.
Fitts was introduced to Cornucopia in 2007 by Jelaine, a friend who had gone through the cancer journey. Deciding to visit one day, she was surprised to discover she would not be charged for her massage.
The experience eventually compelled her to pay it forward as a volunteer at the front desk.
My mom taught us service, and she grew up in a generation when people gave back, says Fitts. You always helped your neighbor.
Fitts said her mother was a passionate volunteer. She passed the quality and a sense of community on to her kids by having them volunteer in local events, such as passing out fliers for elections.
At first she greeted people and answered phones for the nonprofit and then moved on to data entry. After a year or so with the organization, Fitts had decided that she would move on to try something else. After all, she had always been an active volunteer in the community such as in her sons school or at N.C. Central Universitys radio station, WNCU 90.7 FM.
She would simply find something else to keep hope alive in others lives she thought.
But as youre making a plan, someone else is making a plan for you, Fitts says.
Over lunch one day, President and CEO Mary Lawrence interviewed Fitts for a permanent position and hired her to become a member of Cornucopias Leadership Team.
When Fitts was diagnosed in 2006, she said cancer was somewhat foreign to her. No one in her family had cancer, though she remembers as a child, friends of her mothers dying from cancer.
Now, in addition to her work at Cornucopia, four out of 10 members of her book club are also survivors. Fitts, who spent 20 years in human resources, says to be in Cornucopias line of work you have to have a caring heart and a passion for people.
She refers to a scene in the film Serendipity.
You know, the Greeks didnt write obituaries, one character says. They only asked one question after a man died: Did he have passion?
On April 1, Cornucopia kicked off its radio show, That Cancer Show, from 8 to 9 p.m. on WPTF 680 AM and WSJF 600 AM. Each weeks show, hosted by Lawrence, will feature cancer patients and expert advice in cancer-related topics. If you want to learn more about Cornucopia or That Cancer Show visit www.cancersupport4u.org
It seems the silver-lining in this story is people.
On the main wall at Cornucopia, pictures of participants hang, depicting them through the various stages of their journey.
Although community members may pass, their pictures stay up. Fitts says when someone passes in their community everyone supports one another.
Its very serious, she says. We have to be here for each other.
We are big huggers, she adds. If you need a hug, you get a hug.