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Cancer corridor: Cancer diagnoses soar near the Oklahoma-Arkansas state line

Statistics from the government show people are 12 percent more likely to die of cancer if they live in any of the Oklahoma counties along the state line between Oklahoma and Arkansas (KTUL).

Cancer is a scary word, even more so for Oklahoman’s living on the Arkansas border.

Statistics from the government show people are 12 percent more likely to die of cancer if they live in any of the Oklahoma counties along the state line between Oklahoma and Arkansas. Channel 8’s I-team traveled the cancer corridor to find out why.

If you could spot love from the street, it’d look like Leon and Pat Goodwin’s home.

“Fifty-seven years,” smiled Pat.

A recent anniversary has the two smiling -- 57 years of marriage.

“I’m easy going,” said Leon.

“Lots of compromise,” said Pat.

What’s less obvious is their faith, especially after Pat’s terminal cancer diagnosis.

“He’s helped us be strong most of the time, sometimes I have to ask Him for a double portion,” said Pat.

Their Stilwell neighbor, Ronnie Trentham, has had six different types of head and neck cancer.

“I felt like someone had dropped the world on top of me and squashed me like a bug. I was like, wow,” said Ronnie.

When Ronnie was told he had six months to live, he knew he’d have to fight.

“I’m like, well, I don’t know what you think (but) whatever option one was, it’s no longer an option,” said Ronnie. “Whatever option two is, pencil me in.”

Cancer. A diagnosis that’s all too common in this corner of northeastern Oklahoma.

“I don’t know why our cancer is higher than surrounding counties, whether they’re across the state line or not,” said Ronnie.

That question -- why -- is a big one that everyone asks in Stilwell. What is it about an imaginary line on a map that makes a difference?

Experts say to some degree it’s lifestyle. More people smoke in Adair County for example.

There are also fewer medical options along with fewer people who have the resources to pay for them.

“I have at least 20 patients, maybe 30 to 40 patients that have some kind of cancer,” said Dr. Jimmie Taylor.

Taylor understands the struggle of treating cancer in Stilwell. According to the latest statistics from the CDC, in Adair County folks are 23 percent more likely to die from cancer compared to their neighbors in Washington County, Arkansas. That's just nine miles away.

“It’s kind of like that old boy idea, I’m tougher than the cancer, I’m going to beat it,” said Taylor.

In Arkansas, there are some physical signs and differences, like Walmart and the University of Arkansas, representing employment and education opportunities that are scarce on the other side of the line.

“I thought oh, go to Houston, you know I didn’t really want to do that,” said Pat.

For people in this area, treating cancer is another battle. Some travel as far as Houston and Oklahoma City.

The doctor became the patient when Taylor was diagnosed with skin cancer.

“I discovered I had cancer on the side of my neck that had metastasized,” said Taylor.

After a drawn-out battle, Ronnie is now cancer free.

“My doctor said, cancer has been mean to you long enough,” said Ronnie. “If you’ll allow me, I’ll be mean back.”

“I did have to have a transfusion about six weeks ago,” said Leon.

Back at the Goodwins, the couple has received some devastating news. Leon has Leukemia, but their prayers remain grateful and their faith is strong.

“He has given us such comfort, He’s given us such a good life,” said Pat.

Their vows are as strong as ever.

“Through sickness and all the other things, til death do you part. That’s how it’s been for us,” said Pat.

No regrets about where they decided to plant their family roots.

Adair County has the highest cancer mortality statistics along the state line, but it’s not the worst county in Oklahoma. Okfuskee County has the highest cancer mortality rate in the state.

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