I am writing this essay from the perspective of a caregiver. My mother, Sherry Pierce Hartfield, received a diagnosis of stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer in March 2012. She was given three to six months to live without chemotherapy. By the grace of God and with the caring staff at Jackson Oncology Associates, she lived a quality-filled life for 5½ years until her death in August 2017.
Although all the oncology nurses were superior, there was one who uniquely stood out from the team.
I first met Angela Hammack, B.S.N., RN, OCN, when she treated my mother with chemotherapy. Angela was polite but stoic in her role as a charge nurse and clinical educator. In the beginning, I thought she was impersonal, but I would later learn that this was a defense mechanism, because she saw so much disease and death in her world.
About a year later, I ran into Angela outside of the cancer center when she sat next to me on a flight to Chicago. She was on her way to run the Chicago Marathon in October 2013, something I would later learn was related to a passion of hers — running! To my surprise, we became friends outside the walls of Hederman Cancer Center. I attended some of her marathons in support, but I became increasingly involved when she decided to train for a 100-miler to raise awareness and money for cancer research. Yes, I said 100 miles. She asked me if I would help her create a page on Facebook to promote the race and her reason for running it – her patients, including Mother. I agreed and became part of her team known as the Hecto Crew. “Hecto” is a decimal unit prefix in the metric system denoting a factor of 100.
From left: Cora Beth Hartfield and Angela Hammack, B.S.N., RN, OCN.
Photos by Martha Grace Gray
She trained for five months to accomplish this mission, and in February 2017, she ran for 29 hours, 36 minutes and 2 seconds to complete a 100-mile course on a red dirt trail in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Her experience is documented in an article that appeared in the Clarion Ledger
and is titled, “Nurse runs 100 miles in 29 hours for cancer charity
The 100-mile race is just one example of many such efforts in Angela’s life. She takes every opportunity to focus on charitable giving and awareness through each of her races, whether it’s a 5K or a marathon.
Her intensity and commitment to go the extra mile are evident not only when she’s running, but also in her giving to the oncology community. She studies to find the latest drugs to help her patients. Currently, Angela serves as the program chair for her local Oncology Nursing Society chapter, through which she works to raise monetary and nonmonetary donations for the Hope House of Hospitality, a facility that provides a place for those who travel for treatment.
Angela is a member of the Cancer League of Jackson, an organization dedicated to raising money to support the local American Cancer Society. She was named volunteer of the year by the local American Cancer Society in 2017. She has served on various campaigns for Susan G. Komen and the Fight for Air Climb for the American Lung Association. She and her supporters have raised over $100,000 through various events. Angela has worked on oncology legislation at the national and state levels, including an oral parity law that was passed a few years ago. She has spoken at conferences on oncology throughout the United States.
It was by accident that she landed in this career field. She was working as a part-time trauma nurse, and an introduction to someone in the oncology world led her to serve full time. Now, 14 years later, she continues her advocacy through clinical education and community service to support her patients.
In closing, let me just speak freely from the heart about my friend, who has given more to me, my sister Meade and my family than I could imagine. She ultimately took the journey with us, as most oncology nurses do, sometimes without even knowing it. Like many of our friends and family, she stood by us during the 5½ years that Mother battled through 16 different chemotherapy regimens, and Angela was there toward the end of life when Mother was no longer able to continue fighting. She went the distance with Mother, like she has done with so many of her patients. Today, she, along with others at Jackson Oncology Associates, continue their brave and worthy nursing responsibilities, as they are caring for my mother’s brother, my uncle Robert K. Pierce, who is battling colon cancer.
Angela is most deserving of the Extraordinary Healer® Award, as I’m sure many of your nominees also are. One thing is certain: Angela is always committed to going the extra mile.
Thank you for honoring our friends and advocates in oncology. They are the real heroes in this life.