Ann Akemon knew she was going to ring the bell after her 12th and final round of chemotherapy at the Don and Dana Myers Cancer Center in Seymour.
She had picked up balloons and written names of people she knows who are battling cancer or have lost the fight, and she was going to release them after ringing the bell the morning of Aug. 9.
She, however, had no idea her son would be there to join her for the special moment.
David Bradley “Brad” Parks has been an inmate at the Jackson County Jail since March 22 after crashing his vehicle into a concrete divider on Interstate 65 north of Seymour. He had injected heroin and fallen asleep at the wheel and was arrested for operating while intoxicated.
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Since then, Akemon hadn’t been able to touch or hug her son. On Aug. 9, though, she did just that when she rounded the corner to ring the bell and saw Brad.
“It was probably one of the best days of my life to see my son come and see me finally finishing,” Akemon said.
“He hasn’t been able to take me to these appointments. He hasn’t been able to sit with me because he has been in jail. I think part of me having cancer is making him realize, ‘You know what? My mom might not be there. I need to straighten up,'” she said. “And he’s got two beautiful little kids 4 and 2, little blonde hair and blue eyes, that he loves and he can’t see them because they have to be 12 or older to go to that jail.”
The best part of it all was that neither Akemon nor Parks knew they were going to see each other that day.
Akemon had posted on Facebook that she was going to have her chemotherapy port taken out at 11:15 a.m., and then she would ring the bell to signify her last treatment.
Dustin Steward, deputy chief of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, saw the post. That day, he and Sheriff Rick Meyer had Parks and three other inmates unloading boxes at Anchor House Family Assistance Center and Pantry in Seymour.
When they were done, three of the men went in one sheriff’s vehicle, and Steward and Meyer told Parks he was riding with them.
“They go, ‘You know where we’re taking you?’ and Brad said, ‘Well, I’m guessing jail,'” Akemon said, laughing. “They said, ‘No, we’re taking you to see your mom,’ and he said he cried.”
When Akemon saw her son, she cried, too.
“Everybody in that room was crying,'” she said. “Neither of us knew it was going to happen. I had no idea that they would do that.”
Steward said when he saw the Facebook post and shared it with Meyer, they knew it would be a positive thing to do.
“It was such a major sickness, and for her to have her son, who she hasn’t seen in a long time, there to celebrate being cancer-free would be really special for them both,” Steward said. “I tried to put myself in Brad’s shoes and imagine how he felt to see his mom celebrate being cancer-free.”
Steward said Parks was very thankful.
“It made me feel good to be able to give Brad this opportunity,” Steward said. “Regardless of him being an inmate, he is a human. He has proven in the jail through the inmate working opportunities, where inmates serve the community, that he deserves every opportunity to better himself.”
Parks also is involved in the re-entry and recovery program at the jail. Centerstone staff and community partners use evidence-based practices of moral reconation therapy, anger management and relapse prevention to help inmates transition back into the real world when they get out of jail.
“Brad has proven through hard work that when he is released, he has a lot of positive traits to help him transition to everyday life,” Steward said. “I am proud of his progress.”
Through talking to her son, who is her only child, Akemon said she has noticed a difference in him.
“The sheriff and all of them tell you nothing but good things about him. They say he is the leader and that he’s the leader of the good guys,” she said. “And allowing them to go out and help the community makes them feel like they are helping people. Those people love him. They treat him good there.”
For the past 10 years, Akemon said Parks has been in and out of jails, including Jackson, Scott, Washington, Clark and Jefferson counties, and also spent three and a half years in the Branchville Correctional Facility.
When Parks was 22, he was involved in a four-wheeler wreck and put on the painkiller Oxycontin.
“That’s the end of the story,” Akemon said. “He went from Oxycontin taking it, then ‘Oh, well, let’s snort it’ to injecting heroin. He’s a heroin addict.”
Akemon said her son was lucky he didn’t die from the wreck March 22 because his car was totaled.
In the meantime, Akemon was going through her own struggle after being diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer that also went to her liver the week of Thanksgiving in 2018.
That Monday, she was scheduled for her first colonscopy, which she had put off for three years. She said she was healthy but was tired a lot.
The doctor, however, couldn’t do the colonscopy because a mass in her colon was in the way. The next day, a CAT scan revealed the cancer spread into her liver.
“I thought, ‘Well, I’m dead’ because I’m 56 now, and I know if you have liver cancer, you don’t have much chance, so I was freaking out. I just totally lost it,” Akemon said. “My blood count was down to like 9, and it’s supposed to be like 13 to 15, so I was losing blood but didn’t even know I was losing blood, and that’s why I was so tired because the cancer was eating my blood.”
On Dec. 3, she had a port put in to start chemotherapy. Every other week from Wednesday to Friday, she received a round of treatment at the cancer center.
Then Feb. 27, she had surgery to remove the three spots on her liver.
“We won’t know until I get scanned on the 29th (of August) that it’s all gone, but my liver surgeon up at IU (in Indianapolis) thinks she got it, that we caught it in time and she cut it out,” Akemon said.
She started her final eight rounds of chemo May 1. The chemo caused sores in her mouth, nose, feet and arms and made her vomit, have diarrhea and be tired. She also couldn’t drink anything cold for a week after chemo, so it had to be room temperature, and her fingers hurt all of the time.
While some people dread the preparation for a colonscopy, Akemon said it’s nothing compared to chemo.
She now encourages people age 50 and older and those in their 40s with a family history of colon cancer to get a colonoscopy.
“Since then, I know of at least 27 people that have went and got colonoscopies,” she said. “I have no family history of colon cancer — none. I get scanned on the 29th, so I’m hoping I’m clear, and I feel like I am.”
She has felt that way since a couple of months ago when she was standing in line at a local Dollar General store. The man in front of her realized he didn’t have his wallet, and Akemon said she would pay for his items.
The man took her hand and said, “God bless you,” and that gave her goosebumps.
“He said, ‘You don’t know what you just did. I’m down to my last $10. My kids needed breakfast tomorrow. I didn’t know what I was going to do,'” Akemon said.
The man said he could use the money in his wallet to put gas in his car and he also was looking for a job.
“From that day on, I thought, ‘You know what? I feel like I’m cured,’ so maybe I am,” she said. “I’m a believer.”
For the next five years, Akemon will have an annual scan to ensure she’s still cancer-free, so she’s going to rely on her spirituality and hope nothing is found.
On Sept. 3, she will return to her job selling cars at Bob Poynter GM in Seymour, where she has worked for 24 years.
Akemon said she appreciated several of her co-workers for being at the cancer center Aug. 9 along with other family members and friends.
While it only lasted 15 minutes, the time spent with them and her son was special.
“I’ll remember that the rest of my life however long I live. That was the most amazing thing that has happened to me in a long time,” she said. “Giving birth to that baby 33 years ago was the best thing that ever happened. It was one of the moments of my life. Ringing that bell and him to be there with me to do that was big.”