All the chairs look the same, save for a few differences in how worn the brown leather was where patients rest their heads.
Alexis Dickerson's mother always sat in the third chair on the far wall to the right. Dickerson sat with her while tubes …
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Alexis Dickerson's mother always sat in the third chair on the far wall to the right. Dickerson sat with her while tubes and doctors and nurses pumped her with what they told her was poison that would "destroy everything" in her mother and "rebuild it" once the cancer was gone.
When the Sumter resident and founder of a new nonprofit called Daughters of Angels walked into the room at Santee Hematology and Oncology on North Lafayette Drive last week, her mother was not there.
The third chair on the far wall sat empty.
Dickerson's mother passed away from cancer on June 16, 2017. She has since started this nonprofit to turn her and other women's "grief into grace" by giving back to community members who are still fighting.
"I am an only child, and I lost my father two years prior, so it was really difficult to me when my mother passed," Dickerson said. "I have my husband and my daughter but no one to go through and feel that exact same pain that I went through. I feel like I didn't have that.
"I just felt lost."
When she thought of the idea to form a support group of women who had lost their mothers to cancer and hold a fundraiser to supply care packages for the chemo center, she was trying to fill a void in the space her mother left.
They raised $700 at the fundraiser - their goal was $200 - and did activities such as making vision boards of their mothers and calling each other by their mothers' names.
"You don't ever hear your mother's name anymore," she said. "You don't say, 'Mom.'"
"Turning my grief into grace"
Dickerson had been back to the treatment center once before to ask about bringing in the care packages.
Felisha Dukes returned for the first time when they delivered them since she lost her mother on April 16, 2015.
"Just seeing all the chairs and the nurses and Dr. [Billy] Clowney, my emotions got the best of me," said Dukes, who works at Sumter County Sheriff's Office. "But it helped me just now by being able to get it out by finally being able to come and do something for someone else to make them feel comfortable."
Dukes is the public relations coordinator for the nonprofit. Once she told Clowney who her mother was, her emotions did get the best of her.
Grief, nostalgia, closure and gratefulness all seemed as apparent at the same time on her face as did the tears in her eyes.
She said she thinks her mother would be proud of her for participating in Daughters of Angels.
"Because I keep a lot in, but being part of a sisterhood, this Daughters of Angels, if you don't have that outlet you can get stuck," she said. "And I've been there. I know what it feels like, so I can finally say I'm excelling when it comes to turning my grief into grace."
Clowney, the doctor at the chemo treatment center, said many families that come in are not as wealthy "as other places" and that "when family members can bring things like this sometimes it's really appreciated."
He said, to him, the Daughters of Angels care packages mean these women "appreciated what we did for their mom, and they want to make sure everybody else's mom gets appreciated the same way."
Bigger treatment centers sometimes lose the personal, human touch that makes patients and their families comfortable, and gestures like this make Sumter a "community that cares."
"We created a sisterhood"
Santana Bolden's mother lost her fight to cancer in October 2014. Now she is the director of fundraising for the nonprofit.
"It still hurts. I guess it will never heal, but being around people who can understand your pain and who can actually know how you feel, it gives you some kind of hope that it's gonna be OK," she said. "And I have friends, but they haven't lost parents, so they don't know exactly, and we created a sisterhood here."
She said she was nervous to join the group and to come to the treatment center because she, too, had not been back since bringing her mother.
"It turned out to be one of the best things that could have possibly happened to me over the years," she said. "Being able to give back and help other people that are going through the same process, it makes my heart smile."
That third chair on the far wall may still be empty. More likely, it is filled by another patient. Possibly a mother, maybe a father, a sister, a brother. They are connected to Dickerson through the care packages.
Dickerson is connected to Dukes, Bolden and the other members of their nonprofit through shared, known loss.
That chair or this earth may not see Dickerson's mother anymore. But Dickerson is still a daughter. And her mother is an angel. She is the daughter of an angel.
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