Some people know Jim Armbrister as a member of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, while others might recall him as a retired member of the city police department.
But Armbrister also bears another label — that of cancer survivor, and he is hoping his experiences in this regard can make a difference in the lives of other sufferers of the disease through a recent appointment to a statewide committee.
Armbrister has been named to the North Carolina Advisory Committee on Cancer Coordination and Control. It is a 34-member, legislatively mandated group composed of various medical representatives and others — but, perhaps more importantly, four cancer survivors, who include Armbrister.
His appointment was announced this week by the office of Rep. Sarah Stevens of Mount Airy, who serves Surry County in the N.C. General Assembly.
“Two seats came open (on the committee) and Sarah Stevens let me know that was an opportunity to apply for, and I did,” explained Armbrister, who was diagnosed with cancer more than three years ago. It is a type in which tumors strike areas surrounding the liver.
Armbrister retired from the city police force in 2012 after nearly 20 years of service — where he was best known for law enforcement programs involving schools — and successfully has battled his cancer since. In 2014, he was appointed to the city council to replace Scott Graham, who ironically had died of the disease.
Now Armbrister is hoping the personal experiences he is bringing to the statewide committee will help protect others from that fate. “Hopefully, I can benefit our local area,” he said.
The official mission of the North Carolina Advisory Committee on Cancer Coordination and Control includes facilitating the reduction of cancer incidence and mortality for all North Carolinians, and enhancing statewide access to quality treatment and support services.
Another goal is to maximize quality of life for all North Carolina cancer survivors, patients and their loved ones through educating and advising government officials, policy makers, public and private organizations and citizens at large.
Early detection problem
Having cancer survivors on the committee is a legislative requirement that the local man thinks will be tailor-made when it comes to his perspective on the disease.
Armbrister primarily is interested in helping to bring about improvements in three main areas in the fight against cancer. He is looking forward to serving on subcommittees involved with these, pointing out that subcommittees usually are where most of the work of an organization occurs.
One subcommittee focus area for Armbrister targets the care and treatment of cancer victims. “It looks at quality of care, making sure care is available to people of different income levels and things like that,” explained the local resident, who anticipates being able to offer suggestions that will upgrade patient access to vital medical services.
Another key concern for Armbrister is early detection, which is constantly preached about by the medical community — but isn’t always easy to achieve, as he knows firsthand.
“Early detection is a major issue,” said Armbrister, citing his own experience with cancer. “The reason I say this is because I did have signs and symptoms for five years before mine was detected.”
Medical personnel who initially handled his case refused Armbrister’s requests for a biopsy to determine the presence of cancerous tissue. “And my doctors treated me for something completely different from what I had,” he recalled.
“Then I went to Duke (University Hospital) and it took them one day,” Armbrister said of his cancer diagnosis. “By then it was too late to do anything.”
Other countries, such as Germany, are more advanced than the U.S. in terms of being able to quickly “let the rubber meet the road” regarding diagnostic proceedings, Armbrister said.
He thinks the state should do more to ensure doctors and facilities are available to supply patients with early diagnoses, and at affordable prices, and increase awareness of the different forms of cancer.
Another area Armbrister hopes to make a difference in involves funding for cancer research and other purposes, including recommendations on the levels of funding various entities should receive.
In addition to cancer survivors, the membership makeup of the North Carolina Advisory Committee on Cancer Coordination and Control includes representatives of the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Public Instruction, state legislators, North Carolina medical schools, the Cancer Committee of the North Carolina Medical Society, the Old North State Medical Society, the North Carolina Hospital Association, the North Carolina Association of Local Health Directors, Medical Directors of the North Carolina Association of Health Plans and clinicians.
The full committee meets twice a year.
“It’s just such an honor and privilege to serve,” Armbrister said of his appointment to the cancer advisory group.
“Many have and are touched by cancer,” he added. “With the slow growth of mine, God gives me the opportunity to remain productive for others while enjoying this rare perspective on life and people.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.