Going The Extra Mile(s)

Laurie Blackman has lived in Barbados for more than 30 years but still considers East Tennessee her home away from home.

Born in Knoxville and raised in Oak Ridge, Blackman recently traveled well over 2,000 miles to receive world-class treatment at Thompson Cancer Survival Center. She made the journey after witnessing the level of care Thompson provided during her late sister’s battle with lung cancer.

Laurie Blackman, who has lived in Barbados for 30 years, witnessed the level of care provided to her sister at Thompson Cancer Survival Center and it prompted her to return to East Tennessee to receive radiation treatment for her own cancer.

“My sister was very positive right up until the end. She had inner strength, and she just went through it like a hero,” Blackman says.

Blackman, statuesque and strong, shows no tell-tale signs of weakness as she shares her story today. She’s always been active and healthy, but cancer didn’t care.

Connecting Care Across the Miles

Not long before she arrived in East Tennessee for a visit with her sister in June of 2022, Blackman was shocked to find a lump in her breast. Adopting the positive attitude her sister taught by example, Blackman returned to Barbados that September to face cancer surgery, followed by chemotherapy in January 2023.

Blackman says the care was wonderful, but when the time came for radiation therapy, she was advised to pursue a treatment option not available in Barbados – one that would target the cancer in her breast without significant risk to her heart, and the bone, tissue, and muscle surrounding the tumor. She needed next-level care, and there was no question in her mind about where she would go once the arrangements could be made.

Grant Clark, MD, is the radiation oncologist who oversaw Blackman’s treatments at Thompson. He explains that she had HER2+ in her left breast, meaning that she had tested positive for a protein that can promote the growth of cancer cells.

“Ms. Blackman’s oncologist in Barbados had reached out with a letter sent via email,” Dr. Clark says, “I then communicated with the physician and Ms. Blackman to work out logistics. I looked over her case and gave them an idea of what type of recommendations I would give.”

Miraculously, the arrangements fell neatly into place. “From day one I’ve just been embraced by everyone,” Blackman says. A nurse navigator and Thompson staff even helped her organize transportation to and from appointments.

TCSC patient Laurie Blackman poses with her radiation oncologist, Dr. Grant Clark.

Dr. Grant Clark, MD, and the Thompson Cancer Survival Center team helped Laurie Blackman transition from cancer care in Barbados to cancer care in Knoxville.

“They didn’t know me, I had no history, no past, nothing, no connection with Thompson, but they all played a big part in helping me along my journey,” Blackman says.

Thompson’s state-of-the-art radiation treatments took place over four weeks, using a seemingly simple technique to create more space around Blackman’s tumor. “We used a technique called deep inspiration breath hold radiation,” Dr. Clark says. “It helps minimize the radiation dose to her heart.”

A New Perspective

While some people assume cancer is a death sentence, Blackman sees it as a new lease on life. Now back in Barbados, her focus is on enjoying her grandchildren and keeping busy with everything from event planning to managing her own publishing company.

She encourages other women to embrace a healthy lifestyle and take preventive measures to stop cancer in its tracks. Blackman often reflects on cancer survivors who have inspired her, including her own sister.

“I have tried to learn from them and take the same approach,” Blackman says. “Cancer is just something you take in stride, and I feel completely blessed to have been able to receive my treatment in East Tennessee.

“This one body that you get — when things go wrong, you have to try and get on top of it right away, for health’s sake, not for beauty’s sake,” Blackman adds, “and make sure you align yourself with the best medical treatment that you can get wherever possible.” 

Since 1989, Thompson Cancer Survival Center has delivered world-class cancer care to East Tennessee. Expert physicians and multidisciplinary teams use the most advanced medical technologies to achieve breakthrough treatment successes. To learn more, visit ThompsonCancer.com or call 865-331-2865.

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