Caring for His New Community

By Brad McEwen

I’ve noticed that sometimes when we’re close to something we tend to take it for granted or not really see for what it is. Our familiarity, in a way, blurs our vision or desensitizes us.

Such is often the case when I hear certain natives or long-term residents talk about the Albany community. It’s not always that they’re negative or disparaging, but I’ve noticed sometimes there’s just a tendency to not acknowledge what a great place this is and how much this community has going for it.

That’s one of the chief reasons I’ve always been fascinated when talking to recent transplants who, almost overwhelmingly, seem to fall in love with the Albany area and the wonderful people that call it home, not long after arrival.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with one such individual and was incredibly proud to hear Radiation Oncology Associates partner Dr. Adam Jones tell me how warm his welcome here has been and how pleased he and wife Hailey are to have the opportunity to raise sons Duncan and Portland and new arrival Mabel in this community.

“We’re happy here,” the Statesboro native told me with a smile. “To me, Albany is a great place to raise a family and that’s what it’s all about for us. You know we initially talked about, I’m from Statesboro, should we go back there? Or do we look at the St. Simon’s area [where Hailey was raised]?

“Being from Georgia we knew we wanted to come back. We knew we didn’t want to be in the Atlanta area and for me Albany is a perfect place.

“The thing I like about it is, life is slower than the fast lane and you have an opportunity to teach your children important things in life—respect, hard work—and that’s why we’re going to stay.”

Interestingly, Adam’s desire to come to Albany—after completing his formal training in radiation oncology while attending the University of Minnesota—came about some years prior, after connecting with the community, while still attending medical school at nearby Mercer.

“My mother’s from Albany, so when I was a med student you had four years of med school and you had this opportunity to do rotations in other places,” Adam explained. “I took advantage of an eight week rotation here with a family practice program. It’s the same as residency program, but as a med student.

“I took the time to stay with my grandparents. I’d never really spent that much time with them. When I was here, 10 years ago, as a visiting med student, that’s when I met my senior partner, Chuck Mendenhall, who was introduced to me through Phil Roberts, who was my grandmother’s personal physician.

“So from that day it was like the future had already been written.”

Not only did that time here give Adam a positive feeling about Albany, it also helped guide him into his field of radiation oncology.

After getting the chance to spend some time with Adam and see firsthand the character traits that have so impressed others in the community, I wasn’t at all surprised when he elaborated on why he made that choice.

“Once I met these folks, saw the way they treated patients, and met Chuck Mendenhall, there was something about that first encounter where I said, ‘Hey, this is what I want to do,’” Adam said. “I saw the type of impact you can make in a community like Albany, and not just Albany but Southwest Georgia.

“And every step along the way, I would get a little guidance or a little nudge, that kind of pushed me in the right direction. And then eventually, when it was time to start looking for a job, Dr. Mendenhall called me and said, ‘You know, I want you back here.’ And that was that.

“It was Mendenhall who kind of drug me into the radiation oncology branch, and it’s so satisfying, the work that we do. So that’s kind of how it happened—every fork just led in this direction.”

While that brief time living with his grandparents clearly helped shape Adam’s career path, he said it also helped to reaffirm the kind of husband, father, and man he hoped to be.

“I kind of credit that experience of staying with my grandmother, and getting to know my granddad, as an opportunity,” Adam said of his living with Dot and DS Hautman. “He’s passed away now, but Dot is still a faithful member of Byne. They’ve basically been with that church for 50-plus years.

“But just spending time with them, getting to know them, was good. I had breakfast with them every day, talked with them, read the newspaper, stuff you just take for granted when you live in the same place with somebody, but through that life experience I got to know the right people who really shaped my vision for what I wanted to do.

“I often hear people talk about my granddad. You know, if I meet a patient and if they’re older than 80, or went to Byne or are a local Baptist, they know my grandfather. He owned and operated East Albany Lumber Company for about 30 years and the way he lived his life, through his church, he touched a lot of people. He became a Deacon, Sunday school director, was there shaking hands every Sunday morning. And through his lumber business he was able to help a lot and touch the lives of so many folks, and also through his local efforts, through the Boys and Girls Club, the Exchange Club.

“He touched the lives of a lot of people around here and to this day when I meet someone who knew him—and these are patients, or the family of patients—we greet each other and for the first 15 minutes they just want to talk about my granddad. And that means so much.

“It’s like, ‘Hey, I want to be like that.’”

Of course his grandparents were not the only people who modeled the values that he holds dear and is trying to teach his own children. Growing up, Adam said, he and his three siblings spent a lot of time either helping their father with his side line in construction, or gathering after school in his mother’s classroom to get their school work done in a timely manner.

“We grew up watching our pennies and had our belt tight,” Adam said of life in his household. “My dad worked a couple of jobs when we were younger and my mother was a teacher. So we were integrated with good schooling, along with discipline outside of school—which usually revolved around sports. If you’re playing sports in high school you’re too busy to get in trouble.

“And that’s what we did. It was football and baseball usually. In the summers it was summer ball or working for my dad who had an accounting business but saw that he needed to grow a little bit. He still builds rental houses today. But that gave us the opportunity to learn different trades, whether it be landscaping, footing, framing, trim, painting, siding, you know, all of that.

“It was a good opportunity for us to learn something and make a little money while we were younger. And those were good life lessons that I will always remember—things I’d like to instill in my own children.”

Fortunately for those parents who have gotten to know him on the local diamond, Adam is also working hard to instill those values outside of his family, thanks to his involvement in Albany League Baseball, where he serves as a board member, t-ball league director and, most importantly, as a coach.

“Playing sports growing up I always knew I wanted to coach my children,” Adam said. “My father coached us. Even though he worked long, hard hours during tax season as an accountant, he always made time to come and coach baseball.

“And the impact I’ve seen on children, even though I’m coaching teeball—and people say, ‘It’s only t-ball’—well teeball is your first opportunity to create that spark in a child that drives them to go on and become something great, in my opinion.

“It’s an opportunity for them, for the first time, to become part of a team, to realize that, ‘Hey, it’s not just me. I’m out here working hard for my buddy, the kid playing next to me,’ and to actually learn and develop as a team. That kind of team network, it goes on to your job, to future classes in school, and beyond.

“It’s also a way that I found last year, my first year coaching, to get to know members of the community, and to help develop their children into good role models—good young men and ladies.”

And to do that, Adam said he tries to keep things other than learning the ins and outs of the game itself, fairly simple.

“I have a few rules on the field,” he said matter-of-factly. “We always hustle, we don’t argue with the coach, we don’t argue with the umpire and we only say positive things. Those are my main rules every time we’re out there.

“My goal, even though we haven’t won a lot of games this year, is to get that interest in the game going, be positive and show them, ‘Hey, I can have fun here and I can do something well and be a part of this going forward.”

As he mentioned multiple times, his involvement with Albany League Baseball has also afforded Adam a chance to connect with his new community and build new relationships—something he said he thoroughly enjoys doing.

“Over the last few years, within the league, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, who are also a part of the community,” he said. “This year they asked me to join the board which will give me a little more responsibility to help manage coaches and help with fundraising and opening day and field maintenance—which, by the way, has been a joy actually. Although it’s more work, it’s more fulfilling because I get to interact with more folks.”

“What I’m learning is that every parent out there has their own story,” Adam continued. “Maybe it’s a single parent, maybe it’s a parent that works until 5 and maybe their kid’s going to be a little late. We have to acknowledge, ‘Hey, they’re doing the same sacrifice I’m doing.’

“And when they get their kid to the field, it’s my responsibility, whether it’s practice or a game to do what I can do that day, because everybody’s making sacrifices. We all realize it’s important for our children.”

Adam’s love of building relationships also extends to his involvement with First United Methodist Church and specifically “The River” Sunday school class he and Hailey cherish.

“Through that class we immediately made lifetime friends,” Adam said with a smile. “And, you know, we found a ton of support within that class. And also have had the opportunity to go out and do things within the community. So, that’s been big for us.”

While he’s thrilled to be involved with little league and his church, connecting with and serving the community is also at the heart of what Adam does for a living. And his genuine care for others and his dedication to providing medical care to those in need were very much at the forefront of our discussion.

Adam said that as a radiation oncologist he believes he has a unique opportunity to impact patients, and the entire community, by giving them—regardless of their financial status or circumstance—the best medical care possible, when dealing with a disease that, regardless of the outcome, has a profound impact on those that are diagnosed and their loved ones.

“Sometimes we cannot get the cure,” Adam said somberly. “Sometimes you’re telling folks, ‘This cancer will take your life.’ And that’s a very unpleasant, uncomfortable conversation. But for people to know that, it helps with planning; it helps with realistic expectations. If we can come in and quickly treat a site that alleviates pain, whether it be a lung, or the bone, that improves somebody’s quality of life in a way, basically helping them enjoy the rest of their life, I think that’s a great benefit. But that’s the more pessimistic side of oncology though. That’s the palliative care branch, which we take a lot of pride in.

“Now we have to spend a lot of time and effort with that, and it’s very stressful and it’s uncomfortable, but in the end people are genuinely thankful for your service.

“But there’s also the curative side. People forget that we cure a lot of cancer! And some of these patients, we see them at year one, year five, year 20. I’m still seeing patients that are follow-ups who Dr. Mendenhall treated in the late 80s. And they come in, basically, for a social visit. We chat about their lives. You know we do whatever is necessary for them. So there’s that aspect of it.

“And what you also have is, the way these people are connected in the community, and their family members, you really get to know people,” he continued. “And that’s what I love about this, building relationships—whether it’s long-term relationships where you’re seeing someone annually for a long time, or the short term where you’re coming in and making difficult decisions. At that point in someone’s life it’s high stress and it’s an opportunity to help ease someone’s mind, put them at ease.”

Adam also pointed out that within the Radiation Oncology Associates practice, one of the things that is very fulfilling to him is that the entire group has the mindset that they have an obligation to treat the whole patient, which, he said, isn’t always the case within the field.

“In other places, even in this state or in this country, the radiation oncologists have a very, sometimes very small, role,” he explained. “They kind of sweep in, deliver treatment, and then they check out. Dr. Mendehall’s and now Dr. (Jay) MacAfee’s—he’s our director now—philosophy is not that. It’s more about taking care of the whole patient.

“Now, sure, we rely heavily on the primary care physicians. In fact, if there’s a major event or something happens, we try to make a personal phone call, ‘I’m seeing your patient today and there’s some news I want you to know about,’ to their primary care physician, but we try to be very involved with our patients.

“There are a lot of unexpected things at times that come along with cancer treatment, side effects of cancer treatment, and then even with survivorship. So what our program is trying to do now is optimize that individualized care, so to speak, and look at all the multiple facets of a patient’s life. So, in addition to helping someone manage some of these side effects, it’s often, ‘Now we’re behind the cancer, how do we get back to living?’

After hearing Adam talk about how much it means for him to have the opportunity to take care of patients and their families, I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that his desire to positively impact people’s lives was something he was interested in long before his time with Radiation Oncology Associates.

“I wish I had a better story for you,” he said when I asked about his decision to get into medicine. “I’ve always excelled in math and science, but I’m terrible in other subjects such as language skills.

“Well my father was an accountant and I said, ‘Hey, let’s go take some accounting classes the first year.’ Terrible. I hated them.

“So right away I was totally attracted to the sciences, specifically Physics and Biology. Then I said, ‘How can I use this to make a huge impact from here on out?’ And at that point I was talking to pre-med advisors. And once I started on this track I kind of knew midway through college that I could do it and that this was what I wanted to do and that this was my opportunity to do some big things potentially.”

Coming to Albany, Adam said, only strengthened that ambition as he realized there was a tremendous need he could meet here. Furthermore, his joining Radiation Oncology, which has a strong partnership with Phoebe Putney, has provided exponential opportunities for him to serve even more people.

“Albany is the perfect kind of small town with a lot of opportunity in terms of my opportunity for impact,” he said. “It’s great in terms of how many folks I can potentially impact in a given day and in a given year.

“I want to comment a little too about the resources here at Phoebe and our partnership, it’s a bit misunderstood, I guess. Radiation Oncology Associates is a private group; we’re not employed. But we partner with Phoebe Cancer Center in a way where we fully support the radiation and oncology arm. We treat and see everyone, regardless of their ability to pay.

“We’re almost spoiled in a way, in that we have fantastic technology, some of the best in the state, and if we need something Phoebe helps us out.

“But it’s really nice to just be able to treat everyone. I don’t have to look at insurance cards. I don’t have to make treatments decisions based on someone’s ability to pay.

“I get to give people the BEST that I can and that makes life simple.”

Based on the hour I spent hanging with Adam, giving people the best he has doesn’t just make his life simple, it fulfills his obvious desire to have a real impact on people’s lives and make the world around him a better place.

That he has chosen to do that in Albany and lend his talents and dedication to the new community he has fully embraced is a boon to all of us. After getting to know him, just a little bit, it’s obvious to me that this community is fortunate to have a doctor, coach, and man like Adam Jones call Albany home.

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen 

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