POWHATAN – The hospital sent Jeff Blasor home to die. He got on a train instead.
The Arizona resident’s body was heavily damaged by chemotherapy and radiation treatments for esophageal cancer in 2015 and other ailments. So when doctors told him in mid-March he had days or maybe even a week to live, he had made his peace with that knowledge.
But that didn’t mean he had to sit there and wait for it to come. Instead, aided by the help of his brothers, Rodney Blasor and Rick Valverde, the three men set out from Arizona on March 21 on a cross-country journey by train.
At the heart of the trip was Jeff’s desire to see two old friends one last time. One was his friend Joe Turner in New York and the other, Jerimy Ford, is a resident of Powhatan. And along the way, he would soak up every moment, sight, and breath he still had left and enjoy them to their fullest.
“I was very at peace with the decision and the timeline. I said well I am just going to make this happen. It is something I want to do. If I pass away during the trip I died doing something I loved,” Jeff said.
Jerimy, who grew up in Arizona but has lived in Powhatan eight years, has known Jeff for 26 years through some very hard times. When he got word on March 19 that his old friend would be making this trip, he cried. When that was done, his goal was to “provide opportunities or experiences for him that most people might not be able to experience in their lifetime. I wanted everything to be memorable for him.”
And with Jeff and his brothers scheduled to arrive back in Arizona in the early hours of April 11, Jerimy said he felt such happiness and relief that Jeff could beat so many odds and make these memories.
“I am just grateful I got to experience those things with him – that I got to spend some time with him. And I am grateful to all the people who made it happen, more than anything,” Jerimy said. “I didn’t really do much of anything. I made a few phone calls, talked to a few people, and they are the ones who made it all happen. It was just being able to spend time with him and know that we were making memories together. I am grateful for each and every one of those.”
An eventful trip
The trip was an eventful one that extended far beyond Jeff’s original prognosis.
The journey started on March 21 in Fort Mohave, Arizona, where Jeff and Rodney live. Rick came down from Kansas so he could be there from beginning to end as well. It took a few days to make arrangements, but Compassus Hospice in Bullhead City, Arizona helped them assemble the supplies Jeff would need to make the trip, including oxygen tanks and the sustenance he receives through a feeding tube.
But they got it all ready and set off. Even with the two destinations in mind, Jeff was determined to enjoy the journey, which is why he didn’t mind days on a train traveling across the country.
The brothers saw family along the way, with some joining them for short stretches of the journey or meeting them at a layover point to spend time together.
“Along the way, I got to see three of my nieces and nephews. They rode the train with us from point to point. One who lives in Chicago met us there at the train station for four or five hours. I got to see my grandniece. It was great,” Jeff said.
In New York, the brothers visited Ground Zero, the Statute of Liberty, and One World Observatory. Having served in the U.S. Army for two years, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum was a must for Jeff to pay his respects to the ones who never made it home, Rodney said.
After the New York leg of their trip was over, the Turners drove the brothers to Atlantic City, where Jerimy and his wife Chenoa picked them up on March 31 to bring them to Virginia.
Over the next week, the Fords and others helped fulfill more items on Jeff’s list. They traveled to Washington, D.C. and visited the Vietnam War Memorial, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. They walked along the banks of the Potomac River under the beautiful cherry blossoms in bloom. Bill Buck, Jeff’s cousin, came up from North Carolina to be their tour guide.
But it wasn’t just the big sites Jerimy wanted to help make happen for his friend; sometimes the smaller ones were just as important.
He called Ed Nunnally, who owns a rare car collection in Powhatan, to see if he woud allow the group to visit, and Jeff fell in love with the cars there.
Jerimy reached out to the Powhatan County Sheriff’s Office about letting Jeff take a photo in one of its official vehicles – in the front seat. Part of what Jeff wanted to accomplish with his trip was using it to highlight how completely God turned his life around, so that was a big milestone.
“The only time we have ever ridden in the police car was in the back. So it was something that we would have never in our wildest dreams thought was possible, just to sit in the front of a police car,” Jerimy said.
Jerimy, who is not shy about sharing his testimony, described knowing Jeff as a young adult in Arizona, when they were “drug addicts, knuckle heads, criminals and running the streets together.”
“We met about as far from God as you can possibly be. Then God did something radical in both of our lives and turned our lives around,” Jerimy said. “The easiest way to put it is the life that we imagined for ourselves as we sat inside a prison cell waiting for release – the best possible life we could imagine – we can’t even see it in the rearview mirror now.”
Jerimy, relaying Jeff’s story at one point because of damage to his throat, talked about how the friends reconnected in 2012 after several years. Jeff had believed in God, but his faith started to deepen then. About a year and a half ago, Jeff and five other men started a Christian motorcycle club, The Ascendants Motorcycle Club, in Phoenix, Arizona and began “to spend a lot of time giving back to the same communities that, from Jeff’s perspective, they had taken from for so long.”
On April 7, the friends all attended church at Passion Community Church’s Amelia campus, where Jerimy is the campus pastor, and the congregation prayed for Jeff, Chenoa said.
The plan after that was to take Jeff on a hot air balloon ride, but the weather was too windy, she said. Instead, local resident Buck Tilman agreed to let them visit his hidden gem, Tilman Town, and take photos in front of the old buildings. Chenoa marveled at the outpouring of love the local community showed Jeff, who was a stranger to all of them.
“The community rallied around the love that we have for him. They love him because we love him,” Chenoa said.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.