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Survivor finds strength, spiritual guidance and her calling at Massey

Oct 28, 2021

Hikisha Harris

Throughout her life, Hikisha Harris often relied on her faith to navigate the especially tough times. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 11, Harris found comfort in her deep convictions from a young age.

Harris once again turned to God on November 2, 2012 when she faced what would be her greatest health challenge yet.

“I was 29-years-old when I was diagnosed. Triple negative breast cancer,” Harris remembered. “I was shocked. I didn't know what to think. “

Harris had just moved back home to Richmond from Texas a few weeks before her diagnosis. At the time, Harris was going through a divorce and raising her toddler son.

“I was already struggling as a single mother. The first thing I thought was, ‘Okay, what did I do? Did something happen, did I cause this to happen to me? Why, God, would you allow this to happen?’ Harris questioned. “You're thinking different things of that nature, and it can either push you towards God or it could take you away from Him. I'm so glad that I pushed towards, to get to know Him more instead of pushing away.”

Harris originally received treatment at VCU Massey Cancer Center at Stony Point but decided to explore her options.

“I transferred to Massey’s [Dalton Oncology Clinic]. I felt like there was something more I was supposed to be doing, even though I was the one in treatment. I knew I needed to help in some way,” said Harris. “I saw more people going through what I was going through downtown and sat beside more people taking chemo with me.”

Harris distributed handmade cards to other cancer patients to help them smile. During one of her own infusions, she connected with Jim Bonomo, a chaplain who provided pastoral care at Massey and Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR).

“I noticed his socks, his funky socks. He had different character socks,” Harris described. The colorful, patterned socks served initially as a conversation piece that evolved into a discussion about why Bonomo had become a chaplain. As Bonomo explained the joy he experienced offering spiritual guidance to patients and their families, Harris gained a sense of clarity.

“I said, ‘God, I know what I want to do. I want to go back to school, seminary school, and I want to be a health care chaplain,’” Harris affirmed. “It was just the happiest moment of my life because I just knew. I found where I am. I found what I'm supposed to be doing."

Harris began her online education in 2013. For five years, Harris balanced her studies with motherhood and her eventual marriage to the man who had been her cancer journey caregiver and companion. In August 2018, Harris received her master’s in divinity from Liberty University.

“I took the pathway of being a pastor first,” Harris explained. “I was licensed on July 1 of last year. I'm a licensed clergy pastor at the United Methodist Church.”

Harris, by now the mom of a daughter born in 2019 as a result of fertility preservation before cancer treatment, contemplated whether chaplaincy was still her calling.

When she learned about a clinical pastoral education program, Harris recognized it was God’s intention. Following an application process, Harris began her chaplaincy internship at the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond in the fall of 2021.

“A lot has happened over all these years to bring me to this place. It's amazing,” she said. “Anytime I think about what I'm going through now, I look back to say, ‘Thank You, God.’ God got me through that. I am thankful and I'm blessed to have gone through these things so I can be a mouthpiece to talk to other women and to my family about how this one thing, cancer, has given me hope. I pushed through that, and it's helping me to push through what I go through now as a mother, as a minister, as a pastor, as a wife.”

Bonomo, who inspired Harris to pursue chaplaincy, passed away in November 2019 after 20 years at Massey and ChoR.

October 24-30, 2021 is National Pastoral Care Week, a time to acknowledge the contributions of spiritual caregivers and their ministry.

Written by: Amy Lacey

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