"On most days I like to think of myself as living with cancer rather than dying from it, says Fitch, a resident of Louisville, Ky. My doctor said I am too young to have this cancer. When I left USM in May of 1984, I was 22 and thought my life was just beginning. I never thought Id be 43 and fighting for my life. But I am.
Fitch, who proudly wears black and gold in an area saturated with cardinal red, is also using her remarkable emotional and mental resources in support of Alma Mater. The school teacher has contributed $250 and in addition pledged a $50 monthly contribution to the Ogletree House Campaign for the rest of her life.
Her explanation for the pledge is both matter-of-fact it is basic mathematics, she explains and rooted in her emotional ties to the University.
"Most of us waste $50 a month, she said. We spend it a couple of dollars at a time on snacks or coffee or drinks. I know that $50 a month isnt enough to change a life immediately, but $50 a month becomes $600 per year, which eventually becomes something greater. Then, $50 a month can start to change lives.
of prayer warriors -- many of whom are friends from USM. One of my Tri-Sigma sisters who lives in Biloxi e-mails me just to make sure Im OK. She has enough to do in her life, but still manages to find time to check on me. Vickie Wolverton, who I met on my first day at USM, flew into Louisville last summer to visit and support me when I started my chemo treatments.
Ups and Downs
Fitch graduated from Southern Miss in 1984 with a degree in communications. Among others, she credits journalism instructor Gene Wiggins for having a positive influence on her career.
"I know he probably doesnt remember me after 25 years, but he doesnt have to, she said. "I remember him and everything he taught me. Hes a great guy.
Following her time in Hattiesburg, she began working in sales, but eventually found her career path to be unfulfilling.
"After working in sales and marketing for seven years or so I asked myself, What do I want to do with the rest of my life? because that wasnt it, she said. So I went back to school and became a teacher.
Today, Fitch is an American history teacher at Newburg Middle School in Louisville. In April 2004, she was honored by the Kentucky Historical Society as the states History Teacher of the Year.
"I was very honored by the award, she said. When you figure how many social studies teachers there are in the state (it is quite an honor). It was sort of strange when they were announcing the award winner and describing the person I was looking around wondering who that person was. Then, I realized they were talking about me.
A year later, Fitch was scheduled for routine surgery when doctors noticed tumors.
"The surgeon removed the tumors immediately, she said. They came back cancerous and the next day we scheduled tests. I remember the doctor said, The good news is we found the cancer, the bad news is we dont know where it started.
Fitch was diagnosed with colon cancer. The cancer had chewed through a blood vessel and moved to her liver and to her lungs. Her parents were told that her condition was extremely grave, with the possibility that Fitch would die as soon as Labor Day.
"I asked him, Is this something that is going to annoy me for 10 years or is it something that could kill me? because I was not really showing any symptoms, Fitch said. He looked at me like I was crazy.
He said that if I didnt receive treatment I would likely be dead in 90 days. The end of June I started chemo.
Birds of a Different Feather
In 1999, Fitch and her sister Julie, a Mississippi State graduate who earned a masters degree from the University of Louisville, attended the Golden eagles football game versus Louisville in Kentucky. The game was billed as a Conference USA Championship Game, as the winner of the late-season contest earned the leagues championship and a berth in the Liberty Bowl. A trick play to wide receiver Shawn Mills put the Golden Eagles in position for the winning points in a 30-27 victory over the Cardinals. The win gave Southern Miss a perfect season in Conference USA , and one month later, the Golden Eagles defeated Colorado State in the Liberty Bowl to cap a 9-3 season.
"Julie said she would make all the arrangements and wed go to the game together," Fitch said. "Our seats were in the middle of the U of L alumni section. There I was in a sea of cardinal, and Im dressed in my USM sweatshirt. I was booed when I walked up to my seats. The game was decided on the "Mills Kills" play and USM won the game and the championship. When I returned to school on Monday, I posted the score with the words 'enough said' under it."
"One of my students came up to me after class and said Miss Fitch, it doesnt count. Its just football, she added. Wait until U of L plays USM in basketball; that is what counts. Football not counting? I knew I was in a different place.
A Unique Gift
"Please accept this gift with the love that it is sent with, Fitch wrote to the Alumni Association.
Attached to the note was a check in the amount of $250 in support of the Ogletree House Campaign, a $3 million fund-raising effort that will fund the restoration and expansion of the Alumni Associations home on the Hattiesburg campus.
To date, commitments to the campaign account for almost 40 percent of the fund-raising goal. Work on the facility is expected to begin in 2007.
Fitch has also pledged $50 per month to the campaign for the remainder of her life.
"Her dedication to the University is an inspiration to many of our alumni, said Bob Pierce, executive director of the Alumni Association. When I tell others about her courage and selflessness, they are often left speechless and some have a tear come to their eyes.
In recent months, Fitchs battle has taken a turn for the worse. As the clock in the corner of the end zone ticks down, the cancer is gaining strength. Optimistically she says, Once again, I find myself thinking I draw the line at football season.
However, she is
well aware cancer does not offer a do-over. Still, she is searching
for an alternate play -- one that would creatively exceed the dreams
of even the most innovate football coach; one that would allow her many
more days like the day in 2004 when she was honored as Kentuckys
History Teacher of the Year or the evening in 1999 when a trick play
Story courtesy of