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Outrunning Cancer

An interview with Angela Hammack, B.S.N., RN, OCN.
BY Kathy LaTour
PUBLISHED April 19, 2019
Angela Hammack, B.S.N., RN, OCN, found a career in oncology nursing — and a passion for raising money to help patients — by going back to her roots.

She was working as a trauma nurse in Memphis, Tennessee, but decided to get a part-time job in Jackson, Mississippi, because she had ties there: It was where she lived prior to Memphis, and she completed nursing school at Mississippi College.

Fourteen years ago — guided by God, she believes — Hammack made Jackson her permanent home once again. Her part-time job at Jackson Oncology Associates became a full-time position as a chemotherapy infusion nurse, clinical educator and safety manager, and she found that, like trauma, cancer was about life and death.

She loves what she does “because we give hope to patients to keep fighting to accomplish and experience their life goals before they die, if they are terminally ill,” she says. “We get to celebrate and see survivors have children and grandchildren and weddings and graduations. I have treated family members, my college roommate, nursing school friends, family and other close friends of mine that have died.”

To honor her patients, she has taken up running as a way to raise funds. In high school, Hammack was a sprinter. Today, she runs long distance and with a different purpose.

The more than $100,000 she’s raised has gone to the Mississippi chapter of the American Cancer Society (ACS); the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), one of the largest blood cancer patient advocacy organizations; Central Mississippi Steel Magnolias, an affiliate of Susan G. Komen; the Mississippi chapter of the American Lung Association; and the ALS Foundation.

She also volunteers with the Cancer League of Jackson: “We have a gala each year that raises money that helps support our local ACS and the building of our local Hope Lodge.” This ACS
facility will provide lodging for patients with cancer and accompanying family members who need to travel for treatment. The league also lends support to the local Hope House of Hospitality, described on its website as a home away from home for Mississippi’s seriously ill outpatients. In addition, Hammack is program chair for the Central Mississippi Oncology Nursing Society.

She was close to 40 in September 2006 when she decided to resume running by participating in a half-marathon with the LLS Team in Training, raising $3,500. The following year, she ran in the group’s inaugural Mississippi Blues Marathon.

In addition to allowing her to raise money, Hammack says, the events bring attention from local media outlets, giving her a platform to talk about cancer and the needs of those going
through chemotherapy.

One such opportunity came in 2014, when Hammack participated in the inaugural Dopey Challenge, four races totaling 48.6 miles as part of the Walt Disney Marathon Weekend in Orlando, Florida. The local newspaper wrote a feature about her, allowing her to talk about cancer, patients’ needs and legislative advocacy needs. That, in turn, led to her lobbying for passage of Mississippi’s oral parity drug bill, which aims to get patients reimbursed equally for either oral or IV chemotherapy drugs.

In 2017, Hammack completed a 100-mile run in Louisiana in 29 hours, 36 minutes and 2 seconds, and raised $2,000 for the ACS. She ran through the night in the Kisatchie National Forest until pacers were allowed to join her, the first being a coworker and fellow runner who sang “Happy Birthday” at midnight. It was Hammack’s 50th birthday.

“This 100-miler was to give back,” Hammack says. “It was to let others, our patients and their families know that we are willing to go above and beyond the services we provide at the clinic. We are all affected by those we encounter in our personal lives. All of us have been touched by cancer in some form that has changed us in some way.”
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