Tips from a cancer fighter — and survivor

Members of the Moxley Carmichael family had a big reason to celebrate last week. Our colleague Maria Cornelius, the best editor you’ll ever meet, officially hit her 10-year milestone of being cancer-free. Her oncologist officially discharged her into the care of her general practice doctor. And we all took that as a good reason for a party.

Everyone wore pink to the office last week to surprise Maria with a party! From left, Maria McHale, Christa Hall, Allie Clouse, Charley Sexton, Chris Weathers, Maria Cornelius, Lauren Miller, Shaun Fulco, me, Alan Carmichael and Amy Barger.

Maria joined Moxley Carmichael in 2013, six months after her double mastectomy. I had known and been friendly with her for years prior to that because of our mutual work in the local newspaper business and many friends we had in common in that circle.

At the time, we were looking for a writer/editor to join our staff. She was a freelance sports reporter and I had no reason to imagine that she, a hard-bitten journalist, would even consider a career in public relations, referred to by many in the reporting industry as “the dark side.”

One of my favorite pictures of Maria, taken in 2016 when our whole team went to Maple Hall Bowling Lanes. That unneeded apostrophe drove her crazy!

But she and I were playing that old online game, “Words with Friends,” and she was consistently beating me. It was in the middle of one of those games that it hit me! I was playing against one of the best “word people” I’d ever known! Doh! I texted her and asked her to have lunch with me at Chesapeake’s downtown.

We had barely settled into a booth there when I casually said, “We are looking for a writer/editor.” She didn’t miss a beat. “I’ll take it!” she announced.

“What?” I said. “You don’t even know how much it pays!” Her: “How much does it pay?” I told her. “I’ll take it!” she exclaimed again. She’s been working at Moxley Carmichael ever since — nine years and five months. One of the best hires I’ve ever made.

I asked Maria to share with the Blue Streak any tips she had from her battle with cancer that might could help others going through the same journey. She had some excellent insights. They are:

  • “Never ignore changes in your body — you know your own body.” In Maria’s case, she felt a lump in her left breast just two weeks after her annual physical. It would have been easy to just ignore it, thinking it was surely something minor like a cyst. She didn’t ignore it. And a subsequent mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy eventually led to the cancer diagnosis. “If I had just said, it’s probably nothing and it will go away, my prognosis could have been worse,” she said. “Don’t ignore any signs.”
  • “Find your support system and don’t be afraid to use it.” Maria said friends and relatives often ask how they can help. Tell them. Accept their help. Reach out to your support system.
  • “Find ways to grasp happiness. Do what you want. Do what you need to do.” If there’s something that will make you happy, do it! Eat the candy bar; take the trip; watch the TV show; walk; hike; go to the baseball game, she said. For Maria, it was always baseball — especially the Tennessee Smokies.
  • Get a cat! “If you don’t already have cats, I recommend getting cats,” Maria said. “They will be all over you!”

Maria has not let her diagnosis slow her down. In fact, she’s busier now than she’s ever been. In addition to her full-time job at Moxley Carmichael, she also is a freelance writer for 247 Sports. After her diagnosis, she finished a book about Pat Summitt’s final season as the Lady Vols basketball coach. (Click here for more on that.)

She’s president of the East Tennessee Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. She’s on the board of governors of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and chairs the development committee. And she’s active in the American Cancer Society’s many activities.

Not even cancer could slow down this dynamo.

Maria opening gifts at her party last week. With her is Shaun Fulco, the CFO and one of the new owners of Moxley Carmichael.

Wouldn’t you know it? The special cake had a typo on it! Can you spot it?

Maria McHale jumped in to fix it. (Had to shorten the “1” a little!)

All better!

Alan Carmichael and Maria last week.

One of the first times Maria appeared on the Blue Streak was in 2014 in a post about our co-worker Amanda Shell marrying her boyfriend, Mark Jennings. Maria sat with Scott Bird at the reception at The Foundry that night. Today, Scott’s one of the owners of Moxley Carmichael.

Here’s another post from April 2014: a party at the now defunct Windows on the Park bar to celebrate folks who had been on the Blue Streak the most times. From left, Charley Sexton, Maria, Erica Beck and Amanda Jennings. Charley is now an owner of Moxley Carmichael.

In 2014, the whole staff boarded the Big Love Bus (remember that fun thing?) and headed to Kodak for a Tennessee Smokies game. From left, John and Lauren Miller with Maria. Lauren is one of the four owners of Moxley Carmichael today.

Maria at the game. Her happy place.

Maria at the Hats in Bloom fundraiser at the Knoxville Botanical Garden in 2014.

2014 was a big year for weddings at Moxley Carmichael. Here are Maria and co-worker Natalie Lester at the photo booth at the Southern Depot wedding reception for Lauren and John Miller.

The Hope Gala in 2016 was a chance for Moxley Carmichael people to get dressed up. From left, Natalie and Chase Bailey, Maria, and Amanda Jennings at Cherokee Country Club.

We had a party and book signing in 2016 when Maria’s book, “The Final Season,” came out. Here she is signing a copy. The party was at Sweet P’s BBQ and Downtown Dive. (Photo by Pam Rhoades.)

Maria getting interviewed by WATE that night. (Photo by Pam Rhoades.)

And getting hugged by former Lady Vols Basketball Coach Holly Warlick. (Photo by Pam Rhoades.)

Maria with Meshia Thomas, whom she got to know when Meshia provided security for Pat Summitt. (Photo by Pam Rhoades.)

UT Women’s Athletics Director Emeritus Joan Cronan was there.

In 2016, we took our company Christmas party to Bullfish in Pigeon Forge to support our Sevier County neighbors who were recovering from disastrous wildfires.

Maria was partial to the dessert.

In 2016, Moxley Carmichael sponsored an outdoor percussion concert at Mead’s Quarry called Inuksuit. It was part of the Big Ears Festival. Here’s Maria with two of our guests, David and Desiree Eldridge.

Of course, Maria, the consummate animal lover, met Johnny Benson and his cute dog, Margo.

From left, Maria, Georgiana Vines, Pam Rhoades and Shaun Fulco at a 2017 reception at The Foundry when Natalie Haslam received an Impact Award from the East Tennessee Community Design Center.

Maria with Alan Carmichael at the 2017 Cause for Paws held in the Sequoyah Hills garden of Ann and Steve Bailey.

Maria with Mike Hammond at the 2017 welcome reception for former UT Athletics Director John Currie at the Knoxville Convention Center.

Here’s Maria in 2018 at the opening of the Pat Summitt Suite in The Tennessean Hotel. We were in charge the event. That’s our friend Gay Lyons in the background.

The name tag table at the 2018 welcome reception for former UT Head Football Coach Jeremy Pruitt at The Mill & Mine. From left, Lydia Bailey, Caroline Duggan, Maria Cornelius and Amy Barger, all with Moxley Carmichael. (Photo by Pam Rhoades.)

Hats in Bloom 2018. Maria and Nora Robinson.

We are not dummies. In 2019 when we were hired to put on a welcome reception for new UT Women’s Basketball Coach Kellie Harper, we drafted our sports authority, Maria Cornelius, to interview the coach as part of the program. It was great!

Maria at our 2019 staff Christmas party at Sweet P’s BBQ and Downtown Dive. Everyone got umbrellas. I guess she’s not superstitious.

In 2021 at the UT Student Union for a welcome reception for UT Head Football Coach Josh Heupel and Athletics Director Danny White. From left, Kendra Brewer, Scott Bird, Maria and Carolyn Jensen.

Cause for Paws was a great time in 2021. Here’s Maria at the Knoxville Museum of Art witih Maria McHale, left, of Moxley Carmichael, and City Council Member Janet Testerman, who also is CEO of the event’s beneficiary, Young-Williams Animal Center.

Maria with emcee Erin Donovan.

And placing the winning bid — $500 — on two black kittens!


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9 Responses to Tips from a cancer fighter — and survivor

  1. Pam Rhoades, on January 27th, 2023 at 3:14 pm said:

    Love this! Love Maria and so happy for her – fun times! 🙂

  2. Shaun Fulco, on January 27th, 2023 at 3:39 pm said:

    MC is one of a kind! We are so lucky that she is the best word person you’ve ever known. Blessed to have her on our team and as a friend. What a beautiful tribute to an amazing person!

  3. Sandra Clark, on January 27th, 2023 at 11:57 pm said:

    Nice comments and great photos, Cynthia. MC is a pro.

  4. Mary Leidig, on January 28th, 2023 at 9:57 am said:

    Great storytelling here. Thanks for telling it, Maria & Cynthia! So much heart.
    (Hope this comma is correct. )

  5. Georgiana Fry Vines, on January 28th, 2023 at 3:59 pm said:

    Great tribute to a well-deserving Maria.

  6. Cynthia Moxley, on January 29th, 2023 at 5:39 pm said:

    Pam: So much fun to celebrate!
    Shaun: Yep! She’s one of a kind, all right! We are lucky.
    Sandra: Thanks.
    Mary: Ha! If it’s not, you will hear from Maria!
    George: Thanks!

  7. Gay Lyons, on January 29th, 2023 at 6:01 pm said:

    Maria’s the best! At so many things!

  8. Cynthia Moxley, on January 29th, 2023 at 7:16 pm said:

    Gay: Agree!

  9. Kathryn King, on January 29th, 2023 at 11:09 pm said:

    I love everything about this post. Maria is a rock star!!

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