Jeff Blackburn, Ph.D., (D.D.S. ’85) will never forget the day he was diagnosed with cancer. Blackburn was at his Midlothian dental practice when his doctor called to tell him the lump he had discovered in his neck the previous week was malignant.
From that moment forward, Blackburn’s office staff, along with his patients, friends and family, has been by his side supporting him throughout his treatment.
When he first discovered the lump, Blackburn asked one of his dental patients, Dr. Bob Fischer, to check it out. When Fischer examined the lump, he was immediately concerned and directed Blackburn to Dr. Laurence DiNardo, an ear, nose and throat specialist at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center.
DiNardo determined that Blackburn had a squamous cell carcinoma, the second-most common type of skin cancer, and he quickly began a course of treatment that included seven weeks of daily radiation treatments and weekly chemotherapy at the VCU Massey Cancer Center.
“During the diagnosis and treatment process, the doctors and nurses at Massey Cancer Center were wonderful. They worked out a treatment schedule for me that accommodated my work demands and allowed me to be treated at Massey’s Stony Point Medical Center, closer to my dental practice,” Blackburn said.
After his treatment ended in July 2007, Blackburn began running to get himself back in shape and competed in his first triathlon that August. In April 2008, he ran in the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k and participated in the Massey Cancer Center Fundraising Challenge.
A charitable partner of the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k, the Massey Cancer Center initiated the Massey Fundraising Challenge, which allows 10k participants to run for a cause — cancer survival. In 2008, 112 teams and 1,816 participants raised more than $500,000 to support the work performed at Massey.
People have different reasons for participating in the challenge. Some do it to honor a lost loved one. Others, like Blackburn, take part to celebrate their triumph over cancer.
“When I was diagnosed with cancer, I looked at it as an opportunity to overcome the biggest challenge one can face — life or death,” Blackburn said. “Even through all of the treatments, losing 21 pounds and the incredible pain in my throat, I kept telling myself that this was an opportunity to see what I was truly made of. I was going to meet this challenge.”
Blackburn’s fundraising team included friends, family and his office staff — the very people who had helped him get through his difficult diagnosis and treatment.
“After they saw what I went through, they were really interested in doing something,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn and his team raised $1,000 for cancer research in 2008. He continues to raise more money for the cause, getting the word out about the Massey Fundraising Challenge through his dental practice and local businesses as well as the ball teams he coaches.
“I’m trying to do it as big as I can,” he said. “Running in the 10k and being a part of the Massey Fundraising Challenge was one of the best experiences I have ever had.
“I want to do this every year. I will run or walk that thing as long as I am able — because I’m alive.”