Harris gives cancer survivors platform to share their struggles

Former America’s Got Talent contestant Alice Tan Ridley (left) helps Ruby Harris celebrate her birthday. Photo courtesy Greg Malone

Former America’s Got Talent contestant Alice Tan Ridley (left) helps Ruby Harris celebrate her birthday.
Photo courtesy Greg Malone

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

The day Byron Chambers’ wife, Joy, told him that she had breast cancer, he became steadfast in his mindset.

“I knew I had to go to war,” Chambers said, his voice cracking with emotions. “I love her. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for her.”

“Love conquers all. I wanted to help her go through this so she wouldn’t be alone.”

For five years, he said, he endured the agony of watching his wife fight for her life against the deadly disease that claims the lives of about 40,450 men and women annually. Chambers’ wife died in January.

He told his story about enduring at a cancer awareness dinner show Saturday at the offices of Parks and Crump law firm. Ruby Harris organized the event as part of her 60th birthday celebration.
Former America’s Got Talent contestant Alice Tan Ridley performed for more than an hour, at times bringing the small crowd to its feet.

Several breast cancer survivors were in the audience, some of them telling their stories of being diagnosed and how they coped. Harris said she decided to let cancer victims use her birthday celebration as an awareness platform because of how the disease affected her life by claiming two of her relatives; a grandmother and an aunt.

“During the month of October, people celebrate cancer awareness,” Harris said. “My birthstone is the color of the cancer society, and God just put it on my heart to have a cancer awareness dinner show.”
Each of the survivors who spoke was profoundly honest while detailing their struggles with cancer. Viletta Coombs, a two-year survivor, said she gained courage because of her desire to be alive for her two children.

“All I could really think about was my children,” said Coombs, a 43-year-old Tallahassee attorney, referring to the day she was diagnosed. “They truly need me.”

At first, she said, she felt like curling up in a corner. But her faith in a higher power would not let her become submissive to the disease.

“I don’t have the luxury of doing that,” Coombs said. “I have to think about my health and my plan of care in a very strategic, analytical and logistical way so that I can make the best decision to be here for my children.”

Coombs reminded the audience of the importance of having family support while coping with recovery treatment. At the same time, she said, cancer could also take a toll on spouses. She said her husband, for example, lost weight, but never left her side.

“I wish I could have gone through it and spare him,” she said. “It was very devastating for him. In the span of one month, he lost 20 pounds.”

Her appearance at Harris’ birthday party was one of the ways she takes a proactive approach to bring awareness. She said she also advocates for the American Cancer Society.

So do Ambrose Kirkland and Anna Morales-Black.

Kirkland, one of just over 2,000 men who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, lamented about a collapsed lung that he has suffered as a result of radiation treatment. Anna Morales-Black said she developed congestive heart failure due to chemo treatment.

Morales has had to cope with cancer twice during a four-year span. In 2004, doctors discovered cancer in her left breast. But she found herself undergoing treatment again in 2012 for the same disease in her right breast. On top of that, treatment for the disease left her with congestive heart failure.

“My body is one thing; my mind is another,” she said. “My mind has never failed to tell me what I can do. It’s what’s going to rule my body.”