According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1 million people in the United States are diagnosed with cancer each year and, according to one study, African Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. for most cancers.
One man, Al Harris, has taken a step to help those diagnosed with the disease. Harris is founder and president of the nonprofit group Team OverTime, which provides assistance to those wrestling with the disease.
“Basically we are like an extended family. We go out for chemo visits, radiation visits, doctor visits — we just try to help in anyway possible if you are going through cancer,” Harris said.
“I just don’t want anybody to be alone at any time. I have seen what happens to people that are alone versus those who have a lot of support so I’m all about support.”
While the medical professionals treat the physical ramifications of the disease, Harris helps provide the emotional support necessary to help patients who must often go through very traumatic treatment.
“I am all about support and family and that’s what we pride ourselves on being, being as much family as possible. I don’t call them patients, I don’t call them people we deal with, I call them family,” he said.
Harris began his journey after going through the experience of having family members go through the fight against cancer.
“My fiancee, her stepfather was going through cancer, my younger cousin was going through brain cancer and my older cousin was going through breast cancer,” Harris said. “I got to see every side of support for each of them.”
While some members received a great deal of family support as they underwent treatment, Harris said others did not. The level of support made a difference, he said.
“For people with cancer, it’s very hard for them when they are by themselves, fighting the disease by themselves for a period of time takes a toll on them.”
Harris wanted to come up with a way so that no one would have to face cancer alone and from this desire emerged the concept of “Team OverTime.”
“We become their extended family so no one has to be alone. You always have someone to call, to talk to, to be at their chemo visits and doctor visits. We are always around and my main goal is to keep a smile on your face and to keep you laughing.”
One member of the Team OverTime extended family is Kat Kramer who was introduced to Team OverTime in February when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“He was just very supportive and started supporting me right away by sending me encouraging messages, they are just a wonderful organization,” Kramer said. “I went for radiation [treatment] for six weeks and every day without fail, on my way to radiation, it was an hour and a half drive, he [Harris] would call me, he would text me, he would send me funny messages.”
Kramer said that Harris really believed in the power of laughter and positivity.
“Every morning when I would be stressed out about getting there and getting my treatment he would kind of set the mood for me so that I would have a really great day and have the right mindset to take on radiation.”
Another member of Team OverTime was Marlene Berry, whose grandson, Zahir, 6, is undergoing treatment for brain cancer.
Harris found out about Zahir’s battle as a result of a post on social media posted by Zahir’s father concerning his son’s condition.
“Al reached out to him and the very first moment that he came up to the hospital when Zahir had his surgery, he was just such an inspiration and encouraging to us,” Berry said.
Berry said Harris would spend hours in the hospital with young Zahir, playing video games with him, bringing him his favorite foods and just keeping a smile on his face.
“He would just go out of his way for Zahir even when Zahir was going through his healing process,” she said.
To help fund the work of Team OverTime, Harris launched the CancerWho? apparel line where proceeds go to help continue serving the needs of cancer survivors.