Cancer Support Community North Texas: Providing comprehensive cancer support and empowerment

Story by Lawson Martin. Photos provided by Cancer Support Community North Texas.

“Cancer is scary, but getting the help and support you need should not be,” says Mirchelle Louis, CEO of Cancer Support Community North Texas, which is a nonprofit that provides comprehensive support free of charge to individuals facing cancer.
Mirchelle Louis, CEO of Cancer Support Community North Texas.

Cancer Support Community North Texas has served individuals in the Dallas-Fort Worth area since 2002. Their mission is to help people impacted by cancer by offering them a sense of hope through support groups, counseling, activities, resources, and programs for both adults and children. In addition to supporting the individual who has cancer, the nonprofit also expands its resources to that person’s loved ones, caregivers, friends, and family.

The nonprofit has three clubhouses in the Dallas Metroplex for people to gather: one in Dallas County, one in Collin County, and one in Tarrant County. More than 2,500 people walk through the nonprofit’s red, welcoming doors at the clubhouses’ three locations every year.

Research shows that “social and emotional support is proven to decrease distress during treatment, decrease recurrences and extend lives,” according to Cancer Support Community North Texas. However, not everyone with a cancer diagnosis wants to join a support group, so the nonprofit also offers healthy lifestyle classes, such as yoga, tai chi, and gong meditation.

Additionally, the nonprofit hosts several informational presentations where they bring in experts to talk about a specific cancer or to cover topics such as “how to get through Thanksgiving when there’s cancer in the family” or “how to talk to your kids about cancer.”

Throughout the year, Cancer Support Community North Texas hosts various social events for individuals with cancer and their families, such as potluck dinners, Friendsgiving celebrations, and other holiday celebrations.

Another major asset of the nonprofit is that staff members connect individuals, including a large number of those from underserved communities, to critical resources they may be lacking, like helping them find transportation, helping them pay their mortgage, or assisting them with a rental car for some time, especially since many of these individuals’ finances have taken a hit following a cancer diagnosis.

“Cancer is so overwhelming,” Mirchelle says. “We are not prepared for it. We don’t know what the treatment might entail. We don’t know what the impact on family or finances could be. So the best thing we can do is make having cancer more manageable.”

Mirchelle says everyone at the nonprofit wants a cancer patient to know that they understand the challenges that person is going through but they want that person to recognize they still have a life to live and that there is support for them out there. The nonprofit also strives to connect these individuals with other people who also have cancer so they understand that they are not alone in this journey.

“Putting people around other people creates a great sense of hope because you see it modeled that, ‘Oh my gosh, here’s somebody else who might have a similar diagnosis, and look, they’re further ahead than I am, but they’re living,'” Mirchelle says.

Cancer Support Community North Texas recently celebrated after being awarded a two-year grant from Stand Up to Cancer, a charitable program that works to raise funds for cancer research. The two-year grant will “fund efforts to increase diversity in early-phase cancer clinical trials, including the mental health support offered to these patients.”

Mirchelle says receiving the grant is crucial in helping them connect individuals in underserved communities to clinical trials for cancer patients. With the funds, they can present information about clinical trials to patients in a way that is easy for them to understand and is not overwhelming. The grant allows them to connect patients to specialists who may speak their language or specialists who can help dispel myths and medical mistrust surrounding cancer treatment.

“It really removes the barriers for folks to get the kind of care they need,” Mirchelle says. “The only way I can kind of describe it is it’s like taking a weight off somebody’s shoulders.”

According to Cancer Support Community North Texas, “nowhere is mental health support more critical than in underserved communities.” The nonprofit’s leaders feel the purpose of the grant directly aligns with their efforts over the last several years to connect with the Hispanic community, in particular, trying to encourage participation. That’s where the organization’s Amigos Unidos program comes in.

Amigos Unidos is a cancer support group for patients and their families, holding monthly meetings in person and on Zoom. Through this Spanish programming, group members encounter free short-term, cancer-focused counseling led by certified mental health professionals.

According to the nonprofit, its Amigos Unidos program is so popular now that they’ve seen an increase in active Hispanic participants from 20 in 2020 to between 50-60 currently.

Mirchelle emphasized the significance of addressing the needs of Dallas’s Spanish-speaking community in a way that felt meaningful, warm, and welcoming.

“Some of us may be perfectly comfortable going to a support group, but if it’s not a familiar cultural practice, promoting a support group may be more intimidating than welcoming,” Mirchelle says. “But if we can create the support in a way that is culturally sensitive, that people can bring their family members, that we can provide a meal, and we can provide the support in the kind of environment that folks feel comfortable, then we are removing barriers.”

Cancer Support Community North Texas recently held a Celebracion de la Sobrevivencia (a survivors’ celebration) for those in the Hispanic community, too. The festival was held in late September during Hispanic Heritage Month. Families were invited to come in festive clothing representing their country and bring a side dish or dessert from their region. It was a day full of music, socializing, and fun.

As the organization’s CEO, Mirchelle says she and everyone at the nonprofit believe in the inherent capacity of every individual to find their path to healing and support. She finds it rewarding to witness and encourage the strengths within each person, even when they may not initially recognize them.

“It’s like seeing the individuals in the fullness and richness of their lives as they have it right then and saying, ‘I understand that cancer is incredibly difficult, but it’s important to remember that you still have a life to live. You have loved ones, friends, and family. You have children. Let’s explore ways to live your life fully so that you are in control, not cancer,'” Mirchelle says.

Because Cancer Support Community North Texas provides every service and support group free of charge, the nonprofit relies on donations and support from the public. You can also volunteer your time to the nonprofit by running activities at its clubhouses or leading a class or activity. Click here to learn more about Cancer Support Community North Texas.