Survivor wins state award for battling cancer

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Like she always does, Sherri James sat diligently taking notes in Monday’s Selma City Council meeting last night.

Brenda Tuck, of the American Cancer Society, was making her presentation to the council about a special person helping to win the war against cancer.

When Tuck announced James is Dallas County’s American Cancer Society’s Community Volunteer of the Year, the mayor’s assistant immediately froze.

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“I don’t think she can move,” Tuck said with a laugh before a troupe of James’ family and friends came to the front of the room to celebrate.

Afterwards, Tuck couldn’t say which broke out over James’s face first: The smile or the tears.

The award was the culmination of months of planning, all carefully orchestrated by Mayor James Perkins Jr., Tuck and James’s sister, Tanya Miles.

It was quite a surprise to pull considering James, herself a cancer survivor. She works closely with both Perkins and Tuck.

Before the meeting begin in earnest, it was easy to see something was up.

Perkins kept glancing around, trying to find somebody, signaling and whispering to City Clerk Lois Williams, who stayed in the hallway until the meeting began.

It was obvious he had something up his sleeve.

Perkins was trying to keep James in his sight. For hours, James’s five sisters, father and about a dozen other friends and relatives were secreted away in two different rooms of City Hall, waiting for their cue to surprise James.

James received the award for her work with the American Cancer Society and the Relay for Life, which she’s been involved with for eight years.

Two of James’ five sisters are also cancer survivors.

James’s mother, Johnnie, succumbed to cancer after years of battling the disease, which is also a major part of her motivation.

“Your mother would be so proud,” Tuck said after the presentation, forcing the emotional James to fight tears again.

During the presentation, James’s family and friends surrounded her, sharing the moment.

Tuck said James was a part of the community’s fight against cancer in many ways: She serves in the Reach to Recovery efforts, supporting other cancer survivors; she’s a team leader for district 7, compromising Dallas County. She’s expressed interest in the C-note program and worked for years with the Relay for Life.

Each year, James and her five sisters form a team to walk the Relay, called Johnnie’s Girls, in honor of her mother.

“Sherri has truly been a one-woman war against cancer,” Tuck said. “The last time I approached Sherri about a project, her answer was something to the effect of, ‘Give me anything to do, you know I’ll do it.'”

James’s response to the presentation was humble.

“I’m just so…full,” she said, her voice shaking.

She wasn’t quite full yet.

Immediately after giving her the award for Community Volunteer, Tuck let her in on her second surprise of the night: James was named the State Volunteer of the Year for Volunteer Development Leadership.

Tuck said the award was given to one of the many winners of the Community Volunteer of the Year award.

“Sometimes we are really fortunate, like tonight, to be able to present another award,” Tuck said.

After the presentation, James, Tuck and her family gathered on the first floor of City Hall, enjoying cake and punch.

The cake was decorated with a pink ribbon.

She was still fighting back tears.

Tuck said the entire presentation – and the surprise – was the brainchild of James’s sister, Miles.

Miles said she wasn’t entirely to blame, giving equal credit to Tuck and Perkins.

Still, she said, it was a difficult secret to keep.

Miles said James was visiting her Sunday night, and she couldn’t seem to get rid of her to take care of the refreshments.

“Last night, I kept thinking, ‘Why don’t ya’ll (James) get up and go,” she said.

An even closer call came just before the meeting, when Miles and James crossed paths going to the ladies room. James never even noticed.

“When you were coming out, I was going in,” Miles told James.

James was overwhelmed and honored by all the attention and effort.

“Ya’ll did my heart good,” she said.

James said her mother inspired her to do the work she does.

“That was the drive,” she said. “I watched my mother survive and not die from this.”

Despite her humility, James was fighting cancer even during the presentation.

An unidentified man, inspired by James’s reaction during the meeting, walked up to Tuck as she exited Council Chambers.

He handed her some money.

“Use it to fight cancer,” he said.

It was $100.