Bari Ellen and Charles Roberts always had a strong marriage. Togetherness was a major goal for the couple, who married in late midlife. Their shared experience of running a restaurant together, traveling together and moving across country to Arizona for a new life adventure strengthened their bond.
Their togetherness took a wayward turn in 2009, however, when the husband and wife were each diagnosed with cancer within two days of one another. Charles had been sick for months, but doctors couldn’t determine what was wrong. Bari Ellen, who was feeling great physically, had gone to yet another doctor’s appointment with her husband. Charles suggested to the doctor that perhaps he just had an infection, as his wife seemed to have an infection, too.
“She’s got a lump on her neck. Maybe we both just have an infection,” Charles said.
The doctor took one look at the lump on Bari Ellen’s neck and said, “Make an appointment with the receptionist tomorrow.” It was a good thing that she did.
“They did a biopsy, and the doctor told me I had head and neck cancer and that it was pretty far gone. He said he didn’t know what he could do for me,” Bari Ellen remembered.
Her cancer was staged at 4B and the prognosis was poor. Two days after Bari Ellen received her bad news, lab results for Charlie came back announcing that he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL.
“We were in a swirl,” Bari Ellen said. “It just came out of nowhere.”
Within a week, Bari Ellen went to Atlanta at the suggestion of her daughter, who works at Emory, to get a second opinion. Her daughter had told her that maybe the couple could find hope and better news at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.
“Once we got to Winship and saw their compassion and dedication and their sense of purpose, we got a sense of purpose and hope, too,” Bari Ellen said. “They gave us an action plan; they didn’t just write me off. We knew we had a fight before us, but we knew we could win it.”
Today, as survivors for four years, the Rosses are retired, enjoying grandchildren, exercising, volunteering and taking care to eat healthfully. They are also running races and this year, both of them are registered for the Winship Win the Fight 5K on October 5th. The couple have formed a team called the Ross Re-Missionaries, and are recruiting as many friends and family members as they can.
“After everything we’ve been through, and after everything they’ve done, I said ‘We’re going to start giving back,’” Bari Ellen said.
The randomness of their diagnoses helps the Rosses to understand the importance of cancer research, which is another reason they strongly support the Winship Win the Fight 5K. All money goes to cancer research at Winship and donors can choose a specific cancer type to which they would like to contribute.
“Our doctors were so phenomenal and did so much for us that we want to do whatever we can,” Bari Ellen said. “They saved our lives.”
The Winship Win the Fight 5K is fast upon us! If you want to run or simply help support other runners like the Roberts, visit the Winship 5K website for more information.