Nikki Strickland of Jonesboro shared her smile and love of life during a benefit held for her at the Monette Methodist Church on Sunday, March 22. Nikki, 23, has been fighting melanoma for over two years.
Steve Watkins of Jonesboro, former Monette resident, served as guest speaker at the Monette benefit on Sunday evening.
Watkins shared Nikki's story, from a sixth grade student who survived the Westside shooting, a 2004 Westside High School graduate, to a young college girl who has been fighting cancer since 2007.
"Everyone gave from the heart on Sunday night and we were able to add $16,000 to Nikki's cancer account," Mrs. Sutterfield said. "We had $5,000 from other benefits and donations."
Nikki was diagnosed with malignant melanoma on Feb. 21, 2007. It started with a mole on her back and spread to lymph nodes under her left arm, her neck and it has gone to her brain three times. It is now in her liver and right lymph nodes. She has undergone three rounds of chemotherapy, whole brain radiation, and eight surgeries (three on her brain).
"She is the strongest person I've ever known," her mother said. "Through it all, she lives every day to the fullest."
Nikki has always been independent. She lives with her cousin, Brandy Dunigan.
Nikki worked at Steak Escape until last May.
"They were very good to her letting her work on a schedule of her good days in between treatments and surgeries," Mrs. Sutterfield said.
Nikki was recently referred to a melanoma clinic in Kentucky. The specialist in Kentucky made contact with her doctor in Little Rock and suggested an experimental treatment called Ontak. The treatment can be done in Little Rock. The family will have to pay the cost of the drugs which are very expensive. The treatment is given in two cycles, three weeks apart at a cost of $18,000 each.
Ms. Sutterfield said she is going to check to see if they can go ahead and do the first treatment.
"That will give us three weeks to raise the money for the second treatment," she said.
Nikki will be tested after the treatments to see if it is working. If it is working, she will undergo two more treatments at another $36,000.
Nikki and her family cannot express their appreciation to everyone who has helped throughout their ordeal.
"So many people have been there for us it is overwhelming and humbling," Mrs. Sutterfield said. "God is still in control and we ask for everyone to continue to pray for her."
Nikki has been the recipient of several fundraisers including a silent auction and chili dinner given by her school friends and parents, her home church family, Union Grove Methodist Church, benefit ball tournaments have been held, a Black Ribbon Bash at the Brick House, and others.
Mrs. Sutterfield works at State Farm Insurance in Jonesboro and she said her employer, Gordon Metzgar, has been supportive and has let her off when needed and co-worker, Dot Butler, has covered for her while she was with Nikki.
The family has grown even closer as they support Nikki through this ordeal. Her sister, Kim, shaved her head when Nikki's hair came out due to chemotherapy. Kim donated her hair to Locks of Love. Nikki's brother, Eric, is there to cook something special for her or help anyway he can. Nikki's Aunt Angie has been there as her friend and nurse when needed.
"After high school, we all can lose touch even with our best friends," Mrs. Sutterfield said. "Two of my old friends from high school, Denise Smithee and Sherry Laffoon, have come back into my life and have been there for us. There are not enough words to express our gratitude to everyone."
The family is very hopeful of the treatment.
The doctors have suggested if this does not work, Nikki go to the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD.
If anyone would like to donate to Nikki's cancer fund, they can send a donation to 85 CR 317, Bono, AR 72416, or contact Jerry Reed in Monette.