Friends Travel Miles, Bring Smiles as Myeloma Patient Begins Treatment

By Linda Haymes

Eight friends, all wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with “Her fight is our fight,” “Christie’s Tribe,” and a maroon ribbon. Each friend held a letter or two, spelling out “We (heart) Christie.”

“We’re a little extra,” explained Mink’s best friend, Danna Johnson of Jonesboro, as the group lined the circle drive to await Mink’s arrival. “We don’t do things just a little bit.”

Most of the friends live in Northeast Arkansas and drove to Little Rock to support their friend. Mink is the general sales manager and station manager for the Jonesboro Radio Group and also appears on air as midday personality Christie Matthews on KDXY, 104.9, the Fox.

When the couple pulled up and Mink saw her friends and their message, she dissolved into tears.

“I was shocked and so happy at the same time,” she said afterward. “These people are my tribe.”

Myeloma patient Christie Mink (left) embraces her best friend Danna Johnson of Jonesboro as friends Jennifer Archer, Shane Carter and Sharron Haggenmacher gather nearby

Myeloma patient Christie Mink (front left) embraces her best friend Danna Johnson as friends Jennifer Archer, Shane Carter and Sharron Haggenmacher gather nearbyKES Photo

“I met Christie through the media and have been her friend for 25 years,” said Shane Carter, now of Little Rock.

Joining Johnson and Carter in the surprise were Sharron Haggenmacher and Marya Langford of Jonesboro; Jennifer Archer of Walnut Ridge; and June Long of Harrisburg, who is also a cancer patient at UAMS; and Carter’s mom, Kay, also of Little Rock.

The foundation for the group’s friendships began more than 20 years ago when Mink, Johnson and Haggenmacher started working together on the Have-a-Heart Wish-a-thon. The annual event, held near Valentine’s Day, raises money to assist the Make-a-Wish Foundation grant the wishes of critically ill children in northeast Arkansas. The 13-hour radio-thon, held in conjunction with a local TV station, KAIT, 8, has raised a total of more than $7 million.

“I have been blessed to work for a company that allows me to pretty much take over the stations for 12 hours on a Friday in February for the past 23 years,” Mink said.

Mink’s illness did not stop her from taking part in this year’s 23rd annual wish-a-thon, which still raised more than $200,000 despite taking place in the midst of a pandemic.

“Christie has always used her voice to help people,” Carter said. “She has changed many lives across northeast Arkansas and now we’re here to help her with whatever she needs to heal.”

She first broke the news of her cancer on her Facebook page in late January by posting:

… I have cancer. Just seeing that terrible word on the screen makes tears spring from my eyes. It leaves a sickening feeling in my stomach. It makes my heart do a weird little jump. But there it is. I have cancer. Multiple myeloma.

“When I first received my diagnosis of myeloma, I immediately went in search of the best doctors and treatment possible,” Mink said. “It didn’t matter where it was, we were going there. When you have to make a decision that is literally life or death you want to make sure it’s the right one. It was truly a blessing to learn that the best place was right here in Arkansas, just two short hours from my home.”

Myeloma patient Christie Mink of Jonesboro returned from a lunch break with husband Jeffery to find one sweet treat awaiting her just outside the doors of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

Myeloma patient Christie Mink of Jonesboro returned from a lunch break with husband Jeffery to find one sweet treat awaiting her just outside the doors of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute

After receiving her diagnosis, she sought treatment from Frits van Rhee, M.D., Ph.D., clinical director of the Myeloma Center. Her initial appointment was set for the same day as her annual wish-a-thon, but van Rhee was able to see her a week earlier, allowing her to get her treatment plan organized and still be able to participate in the event.

“Thank God these wonderful people were willing to move heaven and earth to get me to Little Rock,” Mink said of both van Rhee and the Myeloma Center staff as well as her friends who helped her set up her initial appointment.

“From the moment my feet hit the UAMS campus, I knew my decision was the right one. I was immediately met by the most kind, compassionate and witty staff who calmed my fears with their knowledge and a level of concern that touched me deeply,” she said. “It truly feels as though I have this army of battle buddies fighting for me. I have 100% faith that they will do everything they can to see that I get to continue loving my family for many more years.”

She is having two rounds of chemotherapy followed by two stem cell treatments. Mink and her husband have temporarily relocated to North Little Rock to be closer the center.

“The separation from friends and family is tough,” said Mink, who has two grown daughters Kaitlyn Bradley and Abbey Playter, a 3-year-old grandson and another grandchild due in late July.

“But I have an entire community, not just in Jonesboro but in Northeast Arkansas and also friends and family in the River Valley area, supporting me. I have been bombarded with love and prayers from far and wide and it’s the fuel that I need.”

During a recent trip to the beach, she thought about what her word or theme would be for 2021.

“The word ‘release’ kept coming to my mind,” she said. “I even wrote down a list of things I wanted to do in 2021, not knowing I’d actually get the time to do the majority of them during this unexpected journey with cancer.”

Along the way, she has been documenting the experience on Facebook with regular posts, some touching, others humorous, titled “Christie Cancels Cancer” since beginning her treatment in early March.

“I am blessed with so many praying friends, and I just don’t see anything but a successful treatment and a bright future,” Mink said. “My trust is in God and the amazing doctors and researchers at UAMS.”