When a person hears those three terrible words: “You have cancer,” all they know at that moment is their life will never be the same. The emotional barrage comes later, and, without help, the pain and fear, the uncertainty and loneliness can be every bit as fatal as the disease. Registered Nurse and Oncology Clinician, Anita White, witnesses this every day.
Anita trusts the doctors she assists and the medication, which, she said, gets better all the time. But she also believes there may be no health supplement better than hope, no healing purer than love.
A little more than five years ago, Anita founded The Gathering Place, a monthly fellowship meeting for family, friends and individuals touched by cancer. Each month, free of charge, thanks to the FMC Foundation of Caring, scores of people gather to share, emote, relate and heal. They come to turn fear into hope, loneliness into love and heartache into healing.
The Gathering Place began with 6 people. Now, more than 40 attend monthly meetings. With support from the FMC Foundation of Caring and under Anita’s leadership, members and supporters organize fundraisers to assist individuals with transportation, prescription copays and other necessities. They also created a directory of professional services that individuals can hire free of charge.
Anita has organized her group members into a community that is increasingly self-supporting and self-sustaining. Through the help of the Foundation and Anita’s tireless efforts, she has created a family of caregivers.
Anita said one of her most significant accomplishments would be the “lifelong friendships” she has made with, in many cases, people who far outlived their initial diagnosis.
She is also proud of providing a forum where one can be entirely open, say anything, without fear of being a “drain” on their families and friends.
A Lifetime Of Service
“Children don’t just wake up one day and want to serve others. They need to see it, and I did, every day.”
Anita learned service to others from her parents, who worked with the homeless and the indigent in Tampa. Growing up in Ybor City, she watched her parents invest in their community on a daily basis.
Anita’s father co-founded Lighthouse Ministries, and, when he learned his congregation would be predominantly Hispanic, he taught himself Spanish so he could better minister to them. This example of bettering oneself in service to others stayed with Anita, and, today, she is “always reading, always learning,” searching for better ways to serve her patients and her friends.
Anita has organized her group members into a community that is increasingly self-supporting and, in so many ways, self-sustaining. Survivors and caregivers swap services, provide transportation, share information and just hang out together. They become friends, de facto family units for folks whose actual relatives are often in other states. They bring together resources and knowledge from diverse backgrounds and countless treatment paths. By extension, doctors and resources are connected and can work together to more successfully treat a patient.
“We see 45 patients a day. You get to know them, how can you not care?”
Anita calls The Gathering Place “the most heartfelt, exhilarating and satisfying” experience of her life. “The group is like my own family.”
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