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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Singer-songwriter helps friend raise funds to fight cancer

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Award-winning singer/songwriter Jamey Johnson will be making his second concert appearance in Normandy on Saturday, Sept. 29 for the Full Moon, Full Life benefit for pancreatic cancer research.
(Submitted photo)
About three years ago, Nikki Mitchell heard of a historic property for sale in a little town called Normandy. She had never been to the idyllic town sandwiched between a lake and a river, but figured it was worth a look.

"As long as I can remember, I've always wanted to live in a historical building on a main street or square," Mitchell said. "I'd looked everywhere from Mexico to Montana to Alaska to Texas. This friend of mine mentioned this building in Normandy, and when I came to look at it, I thought, 'This is it!'"

Perfect haven

Before long, she was the proud owner of the building that has housed everything from a church to a bank to a Masonic lodge. The rear stage provided the perfect place for her elevated kitchen, and the loft was tailor-made to suit her need for a living and office space.

The property would house the Normandy River Cafe and be Mitchell's work space, where she oversees the licensing of Waylon Jennings' music and likeness.

Over the next three years, she worked tirelessly to rejuvenate Normandy's Front Street. Her longtime friend Rhonda Miles has even bought in to Normandy's charm, opening the Front Street Terrace to host parties and receptions.

Sudden shock

Right in the middle, however, Mitchell faced a grave situation that seriously threatened her life. On December 2, 2010, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Only about 38,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year, but less than 10 percent survive.

"The first thing I did was go online and look up survivors," Mitchell said. "I didn't care about the length of time I had, I wanted to know what the common denominator was for survivors. I found out that mine was operable, and it turned out that the surgeon is key."

So, Mitchell made the trip to Maryland to enlist the help of the folks at Johns Hopkins Pancreatic Cancer Research Center. After a successful Whipple Procedure removed the cancer from her pancreas, she endured chemotherapy treatments. The whole while, Miles stayed by her side.

True friend

Another name, perhaps more familiar, was waiting in the wings to show support for Mitchell.

He was the award-winning singer/songwriter from Birmingham, Ala., and dear friend of Mitchell's, Jamey Johnson. And he was especially concerned as only a few months earlier, he'd lost fellow songwriting friend Hank Cochran to pancreatic cancer.

Jessi Colter will also perform at the Full Moon, Full Life benefit concert.
(Submitted photo)
"Shortly after Hank met Jamey, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer," said Cochran's widow, Suzi. "For the two years he lived after that, Jamey would get off the road and pull his bus right up to the hospital, run up and see Hank and raise his spirits."

"The first flowers I got were from Jamey," Mitchell said. "He had just lost Hank to the same thing, so when I told him that I had pancreatic cancer, he really focused in on me, offering a driver and everything."

Life and giving

Luckily, Mitchell came through her illness with flying colors and was pronounced cancer-free in the summer of 2011. From this triumph came the idea for the upcoming Full Moon, Full Life pancreatic benefit concert in Normandy on Saturday, Sept. 29, which will feature Johnson, Jessi Colter, and Waymore's Blues Band.

"Of course, when I mentioned putting an event together, (Jamey) was right on -- for me, for Hank, for anyone in the future," Mitchell said. "Jamey reminds me a lot of Waylon. He does so many great things for people that will never be known. That's why he makes great music, it comes from a great place."

Johnson did a concert to benefit the Normandy Volunteer Fire Department in 2010 on Normandy's Front Street, which had a better turnout than he or Mitchell could've imagined. The attendance figures ranged anywhere from 2,500 to 5,000.

Return gig

For the Full Moon, Full Life concert, only 4,000 tickets will be up for sale. The cost is $20 in advance or $25 at the gate. Tickets can be purchased online at www.fullmoonfulllife.com or www.therivercafenormandy.com, or from Donna Clanton at Peoples Bank on Main Street.

Seventy-five percent of the proceeds will go to TGen, a research institute focused on developing earlier diagnostics and smarter treatments, and 25 percent will go to Johns Hopkins to aid its Multidisciplinary Pancreatic Cyst Program. Mitchell hopes these contributions will help to aid in the early detection of pancreatic cancer.

"Early detection is key, and that is the only thing that will save people," she said. "It's so fast, that once someone is affected, it's too late. It has been heartbreaking for me to see everyone that I have known along the way with this are all gone.

"There's not enough attention to it," she added. "You see it happening all around you, and you know how close doctors and scientists are to preventing it before it happens. When I left it was like I had peered into the future of medicine."

Welcome mat out

Mitchell hopes that residents of the area that she calls "very giving" will make it out to the event that she believes in and has worked so hard to bring to fruition.

"So far, the word has been out on a whisper, and we've sold a lot of tickets," she said.

She was also quick to point out the significance of Colter's first Normandy performance. As Jennings' widow, she's also had a long, close relationship with Mitchell. Colter has been a Normandy fan for quite some time, having drafted her autobiography there.

'Comrade cowgirl'

"Jessi (Colter) is my comrade cowgirl," Mitchell said. "We ride together on everything. She didn't miss a beat when I was sick. I know that some business things had to be put on hold, but nothing was more important to her than me getting my legs back underneath me."

"To know Nikki Mitchell is to love her," Colter said, "as Waylon, Shooter (Jennings) and I could testify. I am proud of her spirit to win. This is just another victory, and we are glad to include Johns Hopkins and TGen as our friends. As usual, [Nikki] will seek to help others in her win."

Mitchell said that she thought folks would be surprised at Waymore's Blues Band, which was Jennings' last touring group. She said it was his "dream band," comprised of musicians that have played with the likes of the Rolling Stones and The Beatles.

Gates will open in downtown Normandy the day of the show at 3 p.m.

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