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Lights of Love at Phoebe Sumter Campus

This holiday season hope will shine brightly this holiday season at Phoebe Sumter Medical Center, as we pay tribute to local cancer patients and their families with our own special Lights of Love tree. Lights will be lit in the thousands in honor and memory of loved ones, and donations to the beloved holiday event will benefit oncology patients receiving treatments at Phoebe Sumter Medical Center.

Phoebe Sumter Tree Lighting Ceremony Date

• Main Hospital Entrance: Tuesday, December 8, 2020 @ 6 p.m.

A symbolic light of love can be purchased for a suggested $25 each. Donations can be sent to Phoebe Sumter Foundation, 126 HWY 280 W, Americus, GA 31709. For questions and more information, please contact Phoebe Sumter Foundation at 229-931-1300. Lights of Love is more than a holiday event, it is a year-round project, and your gifts are welcome at any time.

2020 Tree Lighter, Robert Thomas

While a cancer diagnosis would have most folks dwelling on how they would have the strength to get through it, or worrying about all the help they’re going to need getting to doctors’ appointments and treatments, or simply maintaining some semblance of their normal day-to-day lives, for Sumter County resident Robert Thomas, the news that he had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma—or “bone cancer” as he calls it—sent his thoughts where they often go—to thinking about others.

“I like volunteering,” Robert says. “When I was younger, when I used to work at Davidson, I used to raise money and all to take kids fishing—kids of single parents, people that their father wasn’t able to do it, or stuff like that.

“I love being around kids and the way I felt was every kid should learn to fish. I think I had about 350 kids that got poles and I taught them how to fish.”

At 66, the effects of his cancer and a lifetime of hard work now requiring the use of a cane to get around, Robert isn’t able to take disadvantaged children fishing anymore. Though, just a mention of those younger days, when despite being busy raising his own four children, his mind quickly and happily drifts back in time to growing up in Connecticut, when as the oldest of eight siblings, he went to work to help take care of his family.

“I been working since I was 13 years old,” he said. “I always took little jobs.

“They had this thing called CRT; it’s a Community Renewal Team. And in the summertime, you worked for the city doing little odd jobs and stuff like that. And it would give you 10 dollars a week and put 25 dollars a week in the bank. I was able to buy them school clothes, so my mother didn’t have to worry about me buying no school clothes.”

Robert eventually found work in a restaurant and true to his na­ture, not only found fulfilling employment, but yet another way to help others.

“I learned to cook,” Robert explained. “And one of my favorite hobbies is that I love to cook.”

A devout Christian and life-long churchgoer, Robert said his skills in the kitchen also eventually allowed him to teach youth cooking classes at his church. It was not to indulge his culinary passions, but because he felt knowing how to navigate in a kitchen and prepare meals for yourself and others, is a critical life skill all young people should develop.

“I would have cooking class you know, just for kids,” he explained. “I would teach them how to do basic stuff like make gravy, or how to cook eggs. How to fry corn bread, hoe cakes and stuff like that.

“I taught them how to make lasagna, how to make pasta salad and different things, how to cook greens. I really enjoyed teaching the kids how to do that. One could argue Robert is so hardwired to do for others that it’s almost second nature to him.

In fact, nearly a decade after he made the decision to start curtailing his volunteer work after years of physical decline following his diagnosis, treatments and a bone marrow transplant eight years ago, Robert’s willingness to spend time with others to hopefully boost them up, is ultimately what he believes led to his being chosen as this year’s Lights of Love Tree Lighter for Phoebe Sumter—even if the news came as a total (albeit quite pleasant) surprise.

“That lit my face,” Robert said of getting the email from the Lights of Love team. “I was looking at the email and I said myself, that must be Dr. (Jose) Tongol. Must be something he said or did because he’ll use me sometimes to talk to some patients that have the same sickness I have.

“I would talk to them, explain what I was going through, ask them what they was going through, and talk to them and give them some guidance or help them out. I try to build they confidence up for them to go ahead, you know.”

Cancer free for almost a decade, Robert said he still relishes his regular visits with the team at Phoebe Sumter Oncology and Hematology Clinic in Americus – they remain a source of joy and inspiration.

And even though he can’t do as much as he used to, Robert believes he’s blessed to have another opportunity to help those who guided him through one of the most difficult times in life.

“I love Dr. Tongol,” Robert said. “He tell me to jump off a bridge to get healthy, then that’s what I’m gonna do. So, I had a feeling that somewhere between the nurses like Amanda and Shelia or Miss Beckie and Dr. Tongol, they said, ‘Put Robert’s name in there.’ ”

“I’m honored.”