Nikki Mitchell Foundation

Nikki Mitchell Foundation

Photo credit: Janet Donovan

“Nikki Mitchell saw only great possibilities in life and in others. After successful import and artistic ventures in Texas, Nikki landed in Nashville to helm the enterprises of the legendary Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter. She served as President of their company for 22 years. During her tenure there, she made history of her own with the Bridge of Wings flight. In 1998, she circumnavigated the northern hemisphere as co-captain in a single engine aircraft. In the Russian segment of the journey, this venture unified two countries by flying side by side in formation with two Russian women to retrace the historical 1938 Flight of the Rodina. This commemorative flight served to spotlight the heroic Soviet female pilots whom time had forgotten.”

“In December 2010, Nikki was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given a possible three-month prognosis. Taking the bull by the horns she consulted with renowned medical professionals around the country and her zeal for life never diminished. After thirty-one months of battling this disease, Nikki embarked upon her final adventure on July 9th, 2013.” Nikki Mitchell Foundation

Nikki Mitchell     Photo credit: Courtesy of Nikki Mitchell Foundation

“I went by Waylon’s office on Music Row and walked in the front door and I said, ‘I’m looking for Nikki Mitchell.’ And then the receptionist pointed over that way and I looked over and I see the most beautiful woman I have ever laid eyes on in my life,” said award winning country and western performing artist Jamey Johnson at an intimate luncheon at Equinox hosted by Kimball Stroud and Bruce Harris to hear about the organization he co-founded – The Nikki Mitchell Foundation – to prevent pancreatic cancer. “I told Nikki later on: ‘Nikki, the day I met you my heart melted right in my pants.’ I mean, she was gorgeous. And she was also one of the sweetest natural people I’ve ever been around. And she brought me into that family. She introduced me to Jessi and Shooter and she was always pulling me into things that I didn’t know anything about.  If Nikki called and told me to get involved somewhere, I just did: My feet were already in motion before my mind had realized that a decision had been made. She was a motivator. She wasn’t afraid to pick a fight with the devil. She knew she was right every time.”

Jamey Johnson and Diane Blagman

“When Nikki called me up one day, she wanted to move Waylon’s office from Music Row down to Normandy, Tennessee,” Jamey added. “She had this car that was Waylon’s last car, his Cadillac that after he had his foot amputated from diabetes complications he didn’t need a car anymore. So he gave Nikki the Cadillac. I bought the Cadillac from Nikki to give her the down payment to put on the building in Normandy and out went Waylon’s office down to Normandy, Tennessee.”

“It wasn’t long after that Nikki came back to Nashville for a doctor’s appointment and she came by my studio while she was in town and told me she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was all too familiar with pancreatic cancer because a dear friend of mine had just passed away from it. And so I knew we were in for a fight with Nikki with this pancreatic cancer. I had no idea she would go almost three full years with pancreatic cancer. Nobody ever does that. People go so fast. And it was through those two experiences that I’ve learned more about pancreatic cancer than any human being ought to have to learn in a lifetime.”

“And the first thing is that you can have pancreatic cancer for almost 21 years before you’re even diagnosed with it. There is no test for early detection. You can’t go into the doctor’s office at 30 years old and find out you have pancreatic cancer and head it off before you turn 50. They won’t be able to test you for it. This is problematic because everybody that’s in the cancer industry knows that if you can catch something in the early stages your success rate of getting rid of it is through the roof. If you wait until stage four or late stages, you’re almost done by the time you realize you have it. That’s why most people who get diagnosed with pancreatic cancer – you check three, four weeks later, they’re gone. They’re already gone.”

“Her last dream was to save others from the devastating disease of pancreatic cancer. Caring about Early Detection Research led Nikki to participate, upon her death, in a floating tumor cell research program facilitated by Johns Hopkins Hospital. Nikki’s donation was the first to contribute a vast amount of data to the scientists. We invite you to be a part of this dream and its realization by joining with the Nikki Mitchell Foundation (NMF) to find a means for early detection and the ultimate cure for pancreatic cancer.”  Nikki Mitchell Foundation

“So, our first mission, our first idea and concept for the foundation was to raise money for those early detection tests. But research costs a fortune. And so while we’re in the process of raising money for research for these early detection tests, we decided to do what we can do and we’ve turned the foundation into the last embrace. The last hug. The last resemblance of human decency a lot of these patients get before they pass away from pancreatic cancer. They get the Nikki Mitchell Foundation paying for their house cleaning, paying for their gasoline bill to get back and forth to therapies, buying them a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving. Whatever we can do to show these people some humanity. You know, the first thing you do is you have to quit your job to take care of your health care. And so you start off trying not to die, trying to survive. And then you’re trying not to go bankrupt. That’s why these people can’t afford cell phones. That’s why they can’t afford fuel. They can’t afford their rent. How the hell can they afford their health care and everything else on top of that?  So we step in with whatever funds that we have available,” concluded Jamey prior to introducing Rhoda Miles, Nikki’s partner in the “Bridge of Wings” and President of The Nikki Mitchell Foundation.

Rhonda Miles  Photo credit:  Courtesy of Bridge of Wings

“We have a direct patient’s assistance program that we keep 40 patients on our books at all times and we don’t drop them after one month,” explained Rhonda. “I’ve got patients that have been on our books for two years now. Gas cards and grocery cards are the biggest thing that they want. And it’s amazing. I’ve put wood stoves in people’s houses because they don’t have any heat because they can’t afford the electric bill to go up so we’re trying to figure out, okay, wood stove. We can do that. We can put that in there. We’ve paid a car off. We’ve paid mortgages. We just do this every month for these 40 people and of course it’s not the same 40 people because like Jamey says, slots open up pretty quick and that’s sad. I’m the one that does that. I talk to each and every one of them and they’ve all got my cell phone.  They’ll call late at night or on the weekends and a lot of it is they just need someone to talk to. They just need somebody to listen to them and say we got this and they know I understand because I was Nikki’s caregiver. I went through the whole thing with her. I could tell you on January the 19th of 2012 what her blood pressure was, what she ate. You know, I could tell all that stuff because I wrote it all down. And it’s important that they’re heard. We do awareness. We’re starting to get louder. People are starting to know more and more about pancreatic cancer and you’ve got Alex Trebek right now. I mean, that’s huge. I mean, it’s sad but it is an awareness thing.”

“The first time I met Nikki was at a little airport outside of Nashville and I was a flight instructor,” Miles delighted in telling while ending the luncheon on a lighter note. “She had bought this crappy airplane out of a barn. I mean, it was bad. There’s a good luck charm in my airplane now up in the headliner because it was in the headliner of her airplane. We flew this airplane around the world through Russia and Siberia, but the whole time there was this petrified mouse in there. We considered it a good luck charm. We named him Rocky. So when we sold the airplane I moved him out of that into my airplane now. So I have to tell every mechanic when I do an annual on the airplane I would have to tell the mechanic there’s a mouse. Don’t move … I mean, don’t throw him away. He’s in a Ziploc bag. We went around the world with him. But we did this together. She was my adventure buddy. I mean, we were sisters. So we got 50 hours of footage from that flight so we’re trying to get the funds together to finish it. We’ve got probably half the funds now. We’re in the process of doing that for an awareness piece to get the word out more and more about pancreatic cancer. So between awareness and taking care of these patients, then we’re doing we’ve got a C grant. We partnered with The Pancreas Club with Dr. Wolfgang and Dr. Nealon and Dr. Zyromski.   So we’re partnering with them and we have a C grant that we do. We’re trying to find bold, innovative projects to fund.”

 Nicholas J. Zyromski MD, Christopher L. Wolfgang MD, PHD  William H. Nealon MD

“We’re starting next year the Nikki Mitchell Consensus Conference,” Miles concluded. “It’s hooking up with the Pancreas Club for guidelines for the care and the treatment and the research for pancreatic cancer. But our main goal at the end is to have the Nikki Mitchell Pancreas Precision Medicine Center at John Hopkins that does everything from the treatments, research, to nutrition, to having a financial planner there for them – you know, somebody to help because people are struggling.  We’re from the South, you know? We’re from Alabama. We have Selma, Alabama people that are really struggling and it’s a disease in logistics. South Alabama doesn’t have [facilities] so they have to go somewhere else to get their care. So we’re paying hotel bills, just trying to get them in.  So, that’s what we do and how do we make our money? We’re 90% event based and we raise most of our money at a golf tournament in Montgomery, Alabama, Jamey’s hometown – his golf course. And it’s not a normal golf tournament. It’s fun. One of the holes you tee off sitting in a swivel chair. There’s one hole you tee off standing on a mattress. Another one you sit on a toilet. There’s one that’s got a bow and arrow and the archer guy will take the shot for you. You got one with a pneumatic mortar tube. You got one where you throw it with a tennis ball. It just goes on and on. The whole day you’re being messed with.”  There’s even a song: The Pancreatic Blues!