October 4, 2018

Cochran celebrates cancer treatment’s end in style

Singer Anita Cochran had famous friends in the room when she celebrated her last cancer treatment, but the person with her who mattered the most was her 89-year-old father.

Singer Anita Cochran and her father, Matthew Cockerham, ring the bell celebrating Cochran’s last chemotherapy treatment surrounded by family and friends. (photo by Jamie Schramm)

by Tom Wilemon

Singer Anita Cochran had famous friends in the room when she celebrated her last cancer treatment, but the person with her who mattered the most was her 89-year-old father.

A fellow cancer survivor, he stood beside her inside Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) at Cool Springs and helped her ring the bell. A packed room of family and friends watched. Wynonna wiped away tears. Ty Herndon applauded. Terri Clark gave her hugs. Carol Lee Cooper smiled warmly. Connie Smith held her hand.

Cochran — a singer, songwriter, guitarist and record producer who penned the song “What If I Said” and took it to the No.1 spot in a duet with Steve Wariner — has a new song out about her battle against breast cancer. She plans to donate part of the proceeds from the song, “Fight Like a Girl,” to breast cancer charities.

Singer Anita Cochran, third from left, celebrates her last day of chemotherapy with famous friends including, from left, Ty Herndon, Terri Clark, Wynonna, Connie Smith and Carol Lee Cooper. (photo by Jamie Schramm)

“You have those days that you mark on your calendar and you say ‘this is one of the happiest days in my life,’” Cochran said. “After I rang that bell, I said, ‘I’m the luckiest person in the world even though I went through breast cancer.’ I got to ring the bell.”

Her fight began in August 2017 when she noticed a lump in her right breast and was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer.

“Every person who was there helped me somehow throughout my entire year, whether they brought me a meal or helped me in the yard,” she said. “They are the best friends in the world.”

Her many musician friends staged a benefit for her to help with medical costs, and Cochran said she intends to pay it forward.

“I would sit in my chemo chair sometimes and watch people come in by themselves and talk about how they didn’t have their caretaker who could come sit with them that week,” she said. “It would break my heart. I have been so fortunate. That’s one reason why I want to pay it forward. I want everybody who is going through any kind of cancer to have a day like I did.”

In deciding to come to VICC for treatment, she followed a similar journey made by her father, Matthew Cockerham.

“My father had colon cancer 11 years ago,” Cochran said. “It didn’t look good for him, but he has been cancer free ever since. I had complete faith in Vanderbilt then. When I went there myself, I had complete faith in Vanderbilt to handle me. It was just a great experience with the whole nursing staff.

“Everybody there handles each patient with such loving care. It’s honest. It’s not fake. They really care. You can tell it. You can feel it. I just love them. I don’t ever want to have to go through chemotherapy again, but I’m going to miss seeing those ladies.”

The physician who treated her, Natalie Spradlin, MD, inspired confidence, Cochran said.

However, she had to undergo multiple rounds of chemotherapy that left her weak and unable to work. To keep going, she envisioned herself as a boxer fighting cancer, which inspired her song. She also used that imagery in the video for the song, where she’s depicted as a boxer in the ring.

Cochran talks with Natalie Spradlin, MD, during her treatment. (photo by Jamie Schramm)

“When I wrote the song and shot the video for it, I wanted it to be empowering to women, but I wanted it to be a fight song for anyone who is going through a battle,” she said.

“For me, it was about my breast cancer, so I wanted to show a woman in training in the video for the biggest fight for her life.”

The video, which includes footage of her jogging defiantly down a country road, was shot in winter just two weeks after she finished the rounds of chemotherapy before a double mastectomy.

“I was still very, very weak and still sick,” she said. “There were times when I was shooting the video, like when I was punching the bag and trying to run behind a car, I almost fell to my knees several times. But I knew I had to get it done before I was going to have my surgery in March.”

She said she is so thankful for her family and friends, including fellow musicians and television personality Suzanne Alexander, who was there for the bell ringing.

“I have toured with them,” Cochran said. “I have played the Opry with them. I have recorded with Ty, Wynonna and Terri. Wynonna and I actually had a duet on my second record called ‘God Created Woman.’”

Country Music Hall of Famer Connie Smith — wearing a sparkling pink blouse adorned with a cross — was like an angel on earth representing Cochran’s mother, who died in 2015, Cocohran said.

“Connie Smith has been one of my big heroes for years,” she said. “She was my mom’s favorite. I don’t know if you can find a better human being. She is so loving and so spiritual. She has sent up a lot of prayers for me.”

After the celebration at the clinic ended, Cochran drove away in a Camaro convertible loaned by a friend for the special occasion. She gave a big smile and turned up the radio.

“Blast it, girl!” Wynonna yelled. “Blast it!”