- Associated Press - Saturday, January 18, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Angela Hammack runs with ghosts.

“I know that might sound far out to some people,” said Hammack, 46, a nurse for the past nine years at Jackson Oncology Associates, “but a lot of my patients that I’ve grown to know and love who eventually died from cancer … it’s like they’re right alongside me every step I take.”

Hammack felt them carrying her recently as she completed the inaugural Dopey Challenge at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. - a four-day event that included a 5K run (3.1 miles), a 10K (6.2), a half marathon (13.1) and a full marathon (26.2) as a grand finale. That’s 48.6 miles total, or roughly from Jackson to Forest. Approximately 7,000 people participated.

She ran to raise money for the Mississippi/Louisiana Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Before the Orlando challenge, Hammack had raised more than $22,000 for the organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research, education and patient services.

And as she crossed the finish line of her 11th marathon, Hammack said, “I got really emotional. That’s the first time I’ve ever just fell apart after a run. I started crying, just thinking of why I did this, what all I did to get here, those I did it for. … I’m drained physically and emotionally. But it’s worth every bit of it.

“I gain so much determination from seeing patients come into the clinic, continuing to fight when there seems to be little hope left. I push myself to try and help make a difference so maybe others won’t have to go through that.”

She covered the marathon distance in 5 hours, 23 minutes, slightly longer than average for a female runner.

Hammack, who ran her best time - 4 hours, 44 minutes - in October at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, said: “My times aren’t important. I don’t compete against other people. I just want to finish.”

Hammack has been running for local cancer charities since 2007. She focuses much of her fundraising on blood cancers.

“And the reason is, they don’t pick a certain age, race or gender. Blood cancers affect people across the board,” she said.

Those who know Hammack said the 48.6 miles at Disney were in the bag once she decided to enter.

Angela is one of the most unique people you’ll ever meet,” said Susan James, nurse manager at Jackson Oncology. “She does things at one speed - 100 miles per hour. I have no idea where she gets her energy. She talks faster than I can listen.

“But the thing is, that people sometimes take for granted is, she really has a good heart. I don’t know of anyone who has more drive and ambition. She’s served as president of the Oncology Nurses Society. She became certified to teach other nurses how to give chemotherapy. There is a lot more to her than just the marathons.”

Said Teresa Davis, clinical trials coordinator at Jackson Oncology: “Angela not only raises money and awareness about cancer, but she helps improve patients’ perspective about cancer and the research that’s being done. She likes to talk, likes to teach and likes to educate. That’s what you look for in an oncology nurse.”

Hammack admits to marching - swiftly - to a different beat than most.

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