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Veteran midwife fights back cancer, fear

Ann Addison battles stage 3 pancreatic cancer

POSTED: July 27, 2013 11:40 p.m.

For 20-plus years, Nivenann “Ann” Addison helped usher 4,000 new lives into the world as a trained midwife in North Georgia. Now, at age 62, she is fighting for her own life: The registered nurse certified in midwifery has stage 3 pancreatic cancer.

Her prognosis is good. She said she has a strong outlook and believes in the doctors and nurses who are treating her.

“I’m a spiritual person,” Addison said while undergoing her weekly chemotherapy treatment at The Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville. “I have a connection there and it will play a very important part. And I’m giving those who care for me the knowledge they need to take care of me.”

And knowledge is power for Addison. The more she knows about her cancer, the better equipped she is to battle it and keep the fear of losing her life at bay.

“I find the less you know the more fearful you are,” Addison said.

As a midwife nurse, Addison always tries to educate her pregnant patients.

“In the 1980s, there was very little support for women,” she said. “I went to midwifery school with the intent to provide additional care.”

As a midwife, Addison is an advocate for and educator of her patients. The lessons she teaches pregnant women range from nutrition and hygiene to the expectations and experience of labor and delivery.

Addison performed the needed care, compassion and patience of a midwife nurse so well, she was deemed a “Master in the Art of Nursing” in 2011 from Brenau University.

Registered nurse Linda Clark worked with Addison for at least five years in the obstetrics department.

“She’s awesome,” said Clark, who is now a chemotherapy nurse and sees Addison when she undergoes treatment every Monday at the same clinic where they worked. “She’s compassionate and sweet and not just as a patient but as a co-worker.”

Addison is a 17-year veteran at the Center for Women’s Health at The Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville. Although, she never expected to be a patient there in the oncology department.

“Nurses don’t make good patients,” she said, noting her nurse’s training has helped in all areas of her illness except that one.

But as a patient she faces the daily fear and reality of her mortality.

“I feel like I’m going to wake up one day and it will all be a dream,” the Blairsville resident said. “But I know it’s a reality. ... I need to be strong in order to fight it.”

The fear is real based on the statistics. The American Cancer Society estimates about 38,460 — 19,480 men and 18,980 women — will die of pancreatic cancer in 2013. The overall five-year relative survival for 2003-2009 from 18 geographic areas was 6 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute website.

Plus, more people are being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. About 45,220 people — 22,740 men and 22,480 women — will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2013, according to the American Cancer website. Those rates have been rising slowly in the past 10 years, the website said.

But the increased numbers of cancer patients and high mortality rate are not the only scary figures facing the Addison family. Another rising figure is the cost of her medical treatments, especially since insurance does not cover it all.

After the initial cancer diagnosis — which involved at least three doctors, a trip to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta and a biopsy — Addison underwent six specialized treatments every other week for 12 weeks. Those six treatments comprised of five different drugs cost $26,000 per treatment. Added to that was a $3,000 shot to increase her blood platelet count.

Now her current treatment ranges from daily radiation to weekly chemotherapy totaling $19,000 each week. She receives radiation treatment five days a week in her hometown of Blairsville. Every Monday, she travels to Gainesville for chemotherapy with her husband, Darrell, in tow.

“And a big dollar expense is the CAT scan for $6,000 and she has had five so far,” said her oldest son, Kris, who visits his parents almost every weekend.

Plus, since Addison is out of work and on long-term disability, her salary has been cut by 45 percent.

To help combat the costs, the family has established the Ann Addison Benefit Account at Regions Bank. Kris Addison and his wife, Lisa, established the fund. It allows friends and family to donate money toward not only her medical costs.

“It’s also to help offset money spent on gas for trips to Gainesville and back for her chemo treatments and to her daily radiation treatments in Blairsville,” he said.

However, the treatments have paid off. Following her first 12-week treatment, Ann Addison’s cancer shrunk by 90 percent.

“That was wonderful,” she said with a smile. “So we made another appointment at Emory. I thought that was to set the surgery (to remove the cancer.)”

But her elation was short-lived. Addison’s cancer was still too intertwined with her blood vessels to attempt surgery. It was the same reason surgery was not initially attempted when she was first diagnosed. Therefore, doctors suggested more treatments.

“I needed a round of radiation and chemotherapy, concurrently,” Addison said as she sat with her son and husband nearby at the clinic for her weekly treatment.

And while Kris Addison has watched his mother fight this battle, he said the hardest thing is seeing the toll it is taking on his father.

“I’m scared to lose my mother,” he said as his eyes watered. “But almost as scary is seeing how my dad will handle it and my brother. I feel like I need to be strong for my dad and brother.”

Kris Addison is also not the only one scared.

“I’m scared,” said Darrell Addison, Ann’s husband of 44 years. “I think the after-effects are the hardest part ... because knowing how much of a vibrant person she is ... and it takes a big toll.”

The toll is worth it. Once Addison completes her latest rounds of treatments followed by a six-week wait, she hopes to have surgery to remove the cancer invading her body.

“Hopefully, it will be gone and surgery will be on the schedule,” she said. “And that’s a big procedure.”

Kris said his family will continue the battle and win.

“We’ve had great success,” he said. “(This) will change our loves, but we will beat it in the end.”


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