Off and on for more than 28 years, Air Force Veteran Norman Blackwell has been fighting cancer. For almost two decades, the 78-year-old has received his cancer care at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in Muskogee.
“Sometimes I would get a period of two or three years cancer free and then it would show its head,” Blackwell said. “The team would jump on it and then it would go away.”
With the opening of the new Ernest Childers VA Outpatient Clinic in Tulsa, the facility is offering a new service, like chemo/infusion treatment. Previously, VA only offered cancer treatment in Muskogee.
Despite living in Tulsa, Blackwell reluctantly agreed to change his cancer care from Muskogee to Tulsa.
Nurse Julie Southern (left) and Nurse Manager Melinda Wall with Blackwell
“They talked me into it.”
“I had to go down a couple more times just to make my decision, but they kind of talked me into it,” Blackwell said. “I love the people down there. They have always treated me like I’m part of them. I feel very comfortable going there. We laugh, we talk. They get the chemo in me and I’m gone again.”
Staff in Muskogee were sad to see him transfer his care to Tulsa, but happy for him.
“Mr. Blackwell was a favorite of mine,” said Nurse Debbie Boyattia-Jones, Chemo/Infusion Unit. “We did not want to see him go but we understand the convenience.”
Blackwell said the shorter drive is a perk.
“I’m getting the same treatment in Tulsa and it’s a lot of miles off my body,” he added. “I have to come twice a week because I come over on Monday to get my blood drawn to see if I’m ready to take the chemo. Then I’m here Tuesday morning.”
A special relationship
With the frequency that cancer patients receive care, it is common for clinical staff to form close relationships with their patients.
“I know everything about his family,” said Nurse Manager Melinda Wall, Specialty Care. “It’s not just a nurse-patient relationship and that’s what I have really loved about chemo. You do form those bonds with your patients and get to really feel like you’re helping them.”
Nurse Julie Southern, Muskogee & Tulsa Chemo/Infusion Units, echoed how special her relationship is with VA patients.
“I absolutely love this job because we do get to spend time with them and build relationships and be a part of their lives,” Southern said. “My goal is to get them through this the best I can with the resources we have. I’ll never work with anyone but Veterans now. I’m sold on you guys and girls.”
Could go anywhere but prefers VA
Blackwell said he can go anywhere for his health care but chooses VA due to the relationships he has built with VA staff.
Wall said it is humbling that Veterans choose VA.
“I think that says a lot about our team when he can go wherever he wants to go,” Wall added. “We want him to want to come here.”
Blackwell doesn’t know if he will ever ring the bell to signify his last cancer treatment, but it’s not something he worries about.
“I have full blown cancer and have for all these years,” he said. “I’m very comfortable. I don’t wake up in the morning and wonder, ‘Am I going to make it?’ I don’t do that. When God calls me home, I’m gone. Other than that, I try to live my life the best I can.”