Family of inspirational cancer survivor to carry on her Christmas legacy

RICHMOND, Va. -- The family and friends of a Richmond cancer survivor will continue to carry on her Christmas wish, just weeks after her death.

Keisha Harris, 42, died December 9 due to complications from a recent surgery, according to her family.

However, some would argue Harris' life could be described as a miracle.

In 2013, doctors told Harris that she had just weeks to live after her stage 4 cervical cancer spread to her kidney and spinal cord.

"In 2013, the effects of the chemo and radiation took its toll on 30 percent of her intestines," Harris' father John stated.

She survived a risky surgery at VCU Massey Cancer Center that allowed Harris a fighting chance at life.

Harris would go on to live five more years working to inspire other cancer fighters and survivors to beat the disease.

She spent her remaining years coaching and mentoring young girls in gymnastics. Keisha also penned a book titled ‘Warrior 917,’ which is her personal account of her fight against cancer.

The cancer survivor also worked with ostomy bag manufacturers to improve their products and services.

But, Harris was proud of her work with Richmond-area cancer patients at the hospital where she received treatment.

"She spent many holidays in the hospital, so she knows what it felt like," friend Beth Holland-Koch said.

Before her death, Harris was organizing presents to give out to those suffering from some of life's worst battles at Massey Cancer Center.

"My daughter touched so many people, but on Christmas day it always registered in her mind the people who couldn’t make it home," John Harris recalled.

Inside of a clubhouse in Richmond's Jackson Ward neighborhood Thursday, friends and family were wrapping the presents that their loved one had collected.

Several of the gift wrappers were individuals that Harris had inspired or met during her life after cancer.

"We wanted her legacy to live on. She was a true warrior," Holland-Koch said.

John Harris Sr. and others plan to bring the gifts to the patients on Christmas Day -- just like Harris had done for years prior.

"On Christmas morning we would get up and I would be her elf and she would be Mrs Santa," John Harris described. "She would go to each room of the patients on the cancer ward and bring a smile to their face."

Some of the presents will be given to patients of Clinical Nurse Keith Wick.

"It’s honestly pretty indicative of her character in the fact that her family wants to carry on her legacy is pretty wonderful," Wick said. "To come back in the hospital and to give back to the patients who are in that same situation really speaks volumes of her character."

Valerie Cauthorne, a clinical social worker at Massey Cancer Center, said often patients feel isolated during the holidays.

"You’re never really alone because there’s a lot of staff around, but it's the feeling of being separated from your family," Cauthorne described. "The gifts help them to see that they’re not dying from cancer, but that they’re living with cancer."

Thanks to her family Harris' legacy to inspire and help others will continue this Christmas.

"I will keep her name alive as long as I live," her father said.

Harris' friends and family aim to continue her work through the organization she started, Harris United Foundation, for years to come.