Inspiring a Legion: Soldier’s impact felt, even after death

Published 3:16 pm Wednesday, September 2, 2015

    Matthew Blount with his wife, Melinda, before Blount's battle with cancer. (File)

Matthew Blount with his wife, Melinda, before Blount’s battle with cancer. (File)

‘You never expect death’

Matthew, a Pelham native who was living with his younger brother, A.J., while the two were enrolled at Jacksonville State University, received the prognosis in October 2009 after noticing a small lump on his shoulder.

When he had it examined, doctors determined it was Ewing scarcoma, a rare type of cancer found in bone and soft tissue.

For Matthew, who had just discovered he and his wife were expecting their first daughter, life changed dramatically.

“He and his wife were at the hospital visiting me for the birth of my son,” David said. “They found out that night that they were expecting.

“We were all on a high, and then a few months go by and we discover that a dire health issue has come up,” David said.

Because the cancer was at an advanced stage when they discovered it, doctors initially gave Matthew a couple of months to live.

Despite the grim news, Matthew, who served in Iraq with the U.S. Army for several years before returning to JSU to enroll in the school’s ROTC program, remained determined to earn his degree from Jacksonville State. Once his chemotherapy treatments began, the task became much more difficult.

“When he started chemo, he would go to his treatment, go to class and take a test and then go home and go to sleep,” A.J. said. “He went through the ‘Why me?’ phase, but that didn’t last long. He said ‘I’ve been dealt this hand, I’ve got to play it and see it through.

“He didn’t blame God, he didn’t blame anyone else. He accepted it and moved on,” A.J. added. “So many people would not and could not do that.”

But for Matthew’s family, the visual of seeing their loved one connected to a chemotherapy machine was a difficult sight.

“It didn’t really sink in until he went to his first chemo visit. At that point, it was real.” David said. “You can’t help but visualize it and realize this is really happening. You never expect death. You just think ‘How bad is this going to get?’”

As Matthew’s treatments progressed, he gradually became weaker and dropped to less than 100 pounds. His cancer entered remission in November 2010, but he was diagnosed with leukemia in July 2011 before his sarcoma returned in September 2011.

He was moved from UAB Hospital in Birmingham to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston thanks to help from several military support organizations, including the Blue Star Salute, Disabled American Veterans and the St. Clair County-based Military Assistance Personnel Support. At one point, it cost the Blount family $8,000 per day for testing at MD Anderson, Matthew’s father, Barry, said while his son was undergoing treatment.

But through the ordeal, Matthew never lost his faith. He regularly witnessed to fellow patients he met at various hospitals, and made posts on his journal aimed at inspiring others facing hardships.

During an interview in January 2012, Matthew said he had not given up hope for a miracle, but said he would be at peace regardless of what happened.

“Right now, we are trying to see what else can be done. Today, we got news that there are options for them to work on me,” Matthew said during an interview on Jan. 25, 2012. “All in all, this was not a wasted trip.

“There is still hope, and I am still fighting,” Matthew said then. “I would love to go back into active duty after this is over.”