A Life of Gratitude

Story and photo by Patricia A. Ellis
Karmanos Cancer Survivor

Bester King is full of energy and lives a life of purpose. At age 76, not much slows down this two-time cancer survivor from Oak Park. He has remained an active volunteer at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute for 15 years and has no plans to stop.

King actually started volunteering two days a week in early 2001, shortly after his mother passed away from breast cancer. King and his sister cared for their mother the last couple of years before she passed away, at the age of 95. After that, this retiree decided to volunteer at Karmanos Cancer Institute’s main campus in Detroit. Three months after he started volunteering, he himself was diagnosed with prostate cancer, the same disease his father died of.

“I feel that I was spiritually led to Karmanos, as a volunteer and shortly after, as a patient. I am so thankful,” said King.

King sought the expertise of oncologist Isaac Powell, M.D., professor in the Department of Urology at Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University School of Medicine, and has remained with him ever since. Dr. Powell also helped King through bladder cancer just two years ago. Thankfully, both of King’s cancers were found early and he remains healthy today.

“Dr. Powell understands what it’s like to have cancer, since he’s been through it himself,” said King. “He is kind and compassionate, and a strong advocate who educates the community about prostate cancer, especially African American men, encouraging them to be proactive about their health. If there is a problem, if caught early, it can be addressed and treated so you can get on with your life.”

King’s experience with cancer has expanded his volunteer opportunities to include community education events, such as Karmanos’ Prostate Cancer Symposiums. At this year’s symposium held in September, King shared his personal experience with other prostate cancer survivors and welcomed them to reach out to him should they need someone to talk to or bounce questions off of. He is also involved with the support group B.R.A.V.E., which meets at Karmanos once a month and welcomes men of all ages with any type of cancer.

“So many people reached out to help me when I was diagnosed,” said King. “That’s what inspires me to carry that support forward.”

King’s calming and kind demeanor was recognized by Karmanos’ staff who recruited him a few years ago to be a Patient Safety Associate. In this role, King sits with cancer patients in Karmanos’ hospital, often following their surgery, to make sure they are safe and comfortable. He stays with them throughout the night and is there to listen should they want to talk. He never leaves their side until someone else is there to take over the next morning. Knowing King is there and attentive to the patient is a tremendous service, not only to the patient and their family, but also the nursing staff who continue to serve the complex needs of each patient.

In addition to sitting with in-patients, King still volunteers once a week at the Joseph Dresner Family Clinic for Hematologic Malignancies & Stem Cell Transplantation at Karmanos, making sure the beverage stations are restocked so patients and their family members can have coffee, tea, juice and a snack. He also delivers box lunches to those who come in for infusion treatments, as well as takes patients to and from X-rays or scans.

Laura Zubeck, R.N., BSN, MBA, director of Patient/Community Education & Volunteer Services has worked with King for many years.

“Bester King is one of my all-time favorite people. He has a quick smile and once you meet him, you feel you will be friends forever. He has that natural ability to put people at ease and make them feel welcome.

“Part of his duties include providing support for new patients, assisting them with navigation and orientation to Karmanos. Return patients also receive special treatment as Bester ensures that they reach their clinic destination. He does whatever it takes to make them feel at ease. As a cancer survivor, he has so much to offer as he supports patients on their journey with this disease.”

Family is important to King and he enjoys spending time with his two adult daughters and five grandchildren. He is also active at Triumph Church in Detroit, where he met his significant other, Sandy Hall.

“Sandy and I have a great relationship. God made it possible for us to meet and I thank Him every day.”

King added, “I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I wasn’t diagnosed with cancer. My life is full, I like what I do, I’m happy and hopefully I’m making a difference. I feel blessed.”

As far as the future goes, King looks forward to continuing to share time with the people he loves, doing the things that he loves. Thankfully, that includes volunteering at Karmanos. ”