Fighting For Them: Local grandmother brings awareness to ovarian cancer

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, July 27, 2016

family: From left are Haley, Mertie Ladner and Kristopher.  Photo by Cassandra Favre

family: From left are Haley, Mertie Ladner and Kristopher.
Photo by Cassandra Favre

Since January 2015, Picayune resident Mertie Ladner has been waging a battle against ovarian cancer. In order to raise her grandchildren and bring awareness to this disease, she is determined to fight.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, in 2012, Ladner was awarded custody of her grandchildren, 14-year-old Haley and 11-year-old Kristopher.
“I had no hesitation about taking them,” she said. “They stayed with me most of the time anyway. I love having them. They are what I’m fighting for, the reason I put up the good fight. Without them, I wouldn’t fight as hard, I’m all they’ve got.”
When she was diagnosed last year, the cancer had already progressed to stage 3c, she said. Although it hasn’t spread to any other major organs, the chemotherapy treatments have been unsuccessful in “stopping” the cancer, Ladner said.
She is not a candidate for surgery due to her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart problem.
“I was born with a bad heart and was told I wouldn’t live to see 20,” Ladner said. “But I’ll be 60 this year and there’s no doubt in my mind that God’s gotten me through.”
As a result of the treatments, which she travels to Covington to receive, Ladner’s medical bills have reached almost $2 million dollars and out out-of-pocket costs can run her up to $10,000 per year, not counting co-pays and travel expenses.
Her only source of income is her Social Security check.
In an effort to find more treatment options, Ladner traveled to MD Anderson in Houston, Texas to see what doctors there could offer. However, MD Anderson is not one of her network providers.
“A lot of people helped me make that trip,” Ladner said. “They raised gas money and money to pay the deductible. A lady offered to let me stay at her house.”
Sadly, even the doctors at MD Anderson could not provide encouraging news for Ladner. The window of opportunity for surgery had passed.
“They deal in cancer, it’s what they do. They take more chances than regular doctors and if I had gotten there earlier, they may have taken the chance on surgery,” she said. “The doctor was a lovely lady and told me that I had six months to a year left. I looked at her and said, ‘No, I’m not accepting that, I need at least six years to raise my grandkids.’ I want to make sure Haley’s grown enough to be able to take care of her brother.”
Ladner travels to Covington at least five times per month for chemotherapy treatments and doctor visits; it’s taken its toll financially.
“I’m drowning in debt and don’t know what to do,” she said. “I want to make sure my two kids are taken care of. But I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me and I’m not sorry for myself.”
Haley, who is a dancer at Center Stage School of Dance in Picayune, said it’s been hard, but dancing has got her through it.
Ladner added that Center Stage owner Tonya Barnum has helped her family tremendously by hosting a line dancing class fundraiser, paying the family’s water bills and helping her fix her fuel pump.
“It’s not just a dance school, but a family,” Ladner said. “They teach dance with a heart and a passion. That’s Haley’s outlet, I’ll go without anything before I take her out of dance.”
Both children help out around the house by mopping the floors, washing dishes and taking care of each other.
“Maw Maw is a kind and wonderful person,” Kristopher said. “She’s always there for you.”
In addition to raising her grandchildren, Ladner also wants to bring awareness to what she calls “the silent killer of women.”
Ovarian cancer is not discussed as much as it should be, she said. She has been unable to find resources in Mississippi to help women with ovarian cancer.
“There are lots of cancer-specific groups, but none for this type of cancer,” she said. “By the time it’s detected, it’s already in the higher stages. There are symptoms, but they can mimic other conditions. What you can do for me is get the awareness out there so they don’t go through what I do. I want every woman I meet talking to her friends and family about this. If I can save one life, then it’s worth it.”
Ladner said her dream is to purchase a large trailer for her family so they have a “place to call home.” Currently, she is unsure how she will pay next month’s rent.
“It’s humbling and embarrassing,” she said. “I’ve never had to ask for help and say ‘I can’t do this.’ I’ve always been a very independent person.”
In an effort to offset medical bills and travel expenses, Ladner’s family and friends created a GoFundMe account in her name at
Ladner has advice for those battling cancer,
“If you don’t have a cancer policy or dreaded disease policy, get one,” Ladner said. “Without the best insurance, you’re not going to get the best medical care. It will financially devastate you. But I’m going to get through this. I have so much faith in my God. I just know he has me, he always has.”

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