The Circle Of Hope
The Circle of Hope
“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” Mother Teresa
On the last Monday of each month, a group of women, most of whom are cancer survivors, gather in a conference room with a pile of over a thousand 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper and begin folding them into tri-fold brochures. Someone brings a breakfast of cake or brownies. As the folding ensues, the laughter increases, floating through the walls and into the offices of Miles Perret Cancer Services.
Miles Perret could probably buy a folding machine or hire out that part of their in-house production. But why would they want to do that? There is something potent about the energy in that room, full of volunteers, giving their time and enjoying each other. That, perhaps, is injected into those calendars, which are mailed to clients each month, keeping them informed of the schedule and services. It’s an energy born of survival—a collective strength that comes from fighting a dangerous battle and emerging with wisdom and grace. These women are a small representation of the ways that survivors give to our community their time and talents as an expression of gratitude for the support they received at the most challenging time of their lives.
One of the strongest voices in that room comes from Alice Duhon, the sort of de facto mother hen of volunteers at Miles Perret. A constant presence there, Alice has a reputation for brashness. You will only get the truth from her, like it or not. Having volunteered for over 7 years, she’s broken in her share of employees and volunteers. Behind her wonderfully, sultry Cajun accent and sassy banter lies a soft, generous heart. “I don’t know where I would be without Miles Perret,” Alice said. “This is like my second home. I feel comfortable here. My heart is here. My heart will always be here.”
Another familiar face around Miles Perret is Maxine Landry. A fellow breast cancer survivor, Maxine learned about Miles Perret when she and Alice were in treatment together. Hearing the word cancer means different things to different people. Alice heard it blurted out from her husband after a biopsy. “Alice, you got cancer,” he said from the edge of her bed. At first she didn’t believe him. She wanted to hear it from the doctor. When he confirmed the diagnosis, she was devastated. Alice lost her father, sister and a cousin to cancer. She was shocked and frightened. A friend told her, “You need to go to Miles Perret. They can help you.” Leaving there for the first time, “It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders,” Alice remembered. For Alice, it was the services found upstairs that helped her the most; the support groups and special programs, the knowledge and understanding of what she was experiencing and most of all, the kindness she received from the staff and other clients. She remembers going to a group session for the first time. Everyone was laughing and joking. She wondered how they could be so happy at a time like this, but by the end she was laughing too.
For Maxine, the experience was a little different. Her diagnosis came after a routine mammogram, one she admits she almost skipped. “I was healthy and active. I didn’t feel any lumps, but I said to myself, ‘I better make sure.’” By the time she got home, the doctor had called her back in. She had a mass in her breast. Today, Maxine cannot stress enough the importance of keeping those routine exam appointments. It might not be something you can feel or see that requires attention.
It was in treatment that she met Alice, who told her about Miles Perret. For Maxine, her support came from downstairs. Besides being a personal gym, specifically tailored to people fighting and surviving cancer, the Wellness Center inevitably becomes a support group. “It kept me positive [and] gave me energy,” Maxine said. There is something invaluable about having a place to go where everyone else knows exactly what you’re going through. “It’s my therapy,” she said. “Sometimes I share things. Sometimes others share things. We become very uninhibited. The nutritional programs, the fellowship—all of it makes a difference. One day, someone said they needed a volunteer upstairs, so I thought, ‘They do so much for us, I ought to give back.’ I’ve been volunteering ever since.”
Maxine and Alice give in different ways to Miles Perret. Alice is an almost daily presence, asking for more things to do; tirelessly and patiently serving the staff. At their busiest times, Alice and a crew of many others are always around, staying late with the staff, trimming, stapling, assembling, laminating, counting, folding and generally doing anything that the staff needs to put on one of Acadiana’s largest fundraisers. It is often managed chaos and Alice and so many others are the calm, dependable resource of support. It quite literally would not be possible for Miles Perret to achieve its goals without volunteers.
Maxine keeps a tighter schedule and fits in shifts when she can, often taking things home to work on. She and Alice both take pride in keeping the salon of wigs and head coverings in tip-top shape with properly coifed wigs of all shapes and sizes. “I pick and choose when I can [volunteer] with my schedule. If I can’t, it’s ok. There’s no pressure. If everyone does their part, it makes a difference” Maxine said.
While Maxine and Alice are extraordinary women giving generously of their time, they are a mere representation of the dozens, hundreds and sometimes thousands of volunteers who make the mission of Miles Perret possible. People often say that when a person is faced with their life’s biggest challenge, they find who their real friends are and where real sources of support are truly found. Surviving the challenge of fighting cancer inspires many to give back and make sure no one else is alone in that struggle. For Maxine and Alice, that’s what it’s all about. Seeing the faces of people who come and go—letting them know they are not alone and someone is there to give understanding, compassion and hope—is the motivation behind every hour they give back.