Jeffrey Whiten: Perseverance Personified

Meet Jeffrey Whiten (pronounced: “why-tin”), 58 years old, born and raised in Pensacola, Florida, and a 27-year veteran driver. Genuine and easygoing, Jeffrey’s a lot like other drivers from his generation, but he is also a little bit different. Jeffrey has chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a cancer that starts with cells formed in the bone marrow that become white blood cells called lymphocytes. In CLL, the leukemia cells often build up slowly over time; many people don’t develop any symptoms for a few years.

Jeffrey recounts what it felt like when he was first diagnosed, which came as a surprise. “In 2006 . . . I went in for my yearly check-up with my primary doctor. I had a knot on my neck, and I asked him about it. He told me not to worry and we’d see what happens. Then, in 2007 I went in for my check-up. The knot had gotten bigger and when I pointed it out, he sent me to a neck specialist right away. I went to my appointment the next day, they did some tests, and I went back out on the road. I was in Irving at [the PAM] yard when I got a phone call.”

Jeffrey’s doctor tried to break it to him easy but the verdict was definitive: the most recent tests indicated he had leukemia. “[My doctor] told me that it’s treatable but I’d have to come in for more tests. When he told me that, I mean, I’m like, ‘I got cancer and I’m fixin’ to leave this world.’ But, then it kind of kicked in to me that you can’t think like that.”

From there, Jeffrey began a regime where he went in every three months to visit his doctor and conduct tests so that his leukemia could be properly monitored. The swollen lymph node in his neck that had caused the knot kept on getting bigger and in 2008 he started his first round of chemotherapy. The lymph nodes went back down, which meant the cancer was in check.

Everything stayed stable for about five years but in 2014, Jeffrey had to undergo another round of chemo. That treatment checked the cancer for about two years, after which Jeffrey started another round of chemotherapy, this time with pills.

“The way this makes me feel is like, ‘I’m alive. I’m workin’,’ ” he says. “And that’s where PAM comes in, sticking with me and working with me. As far as me feeling down, I’m not dead yet, and I’m not laying in a bed, I’m not at home cause I can’t work, so everything is a plus to me. I’m able to work and I thank God for that and I thank PAM for that. So I can still take care of my family, still support my family.

“That’s all I know, is to be responsible, take care of your family. It’s not about me, it’s about my family, what they’re going to do without me. I don’t want to let them down, so I’ve got to keep pushing up, pushing forward.”

Love at First Freight

Twenty-seven years ago, Jeffrey’s got his first truck driving job with Poole Transport. While the money initially drew him to the profession, it was the sense of freedom that got him to stick with it. “I was a chef/cook from 17 until I got into trucking in my 30s. In that job [cooking], you’ve got four bosses at one time. Like on the weekends, they’re busy days with all four bosses in there. This boss tells you to do this . . . and this other boss tells you to do that and you’re like, ‘Hold on, now, I can’t do two things at once. Ya’ll get together and figure out which one you want me to do.’ It really bothered me to have bosses telling you to do different things.

“In trucking, you have no boss. Well, actually you’ve got a boss now cause you’ve got that computer in the truck. And, trucking is changing as far as the rules go, but I still love it. Still love it. You get your assignment and you go.”

A Hero to the PAM Family

After about seven or eight years with Poole, Jeffrey started looking for a company that offered more home time. “I wanted to be home more,” he recalls, “so I was reading through the paper that AFS [Allen Freight Services] said they’d get you home every weekend.”

Jeffrey joined AFS, a small freight company based out of Jacksonville, Fla., and drove for it for years until it was acquired by PAM, which brought Jeffrey into the PAM family. “They closed the doors on AFS something like about eight years or so ago and I became a PAM driver,” recounts Jeffrey. “And, I must admit . . . when I got my first driver manager, we didn’t really click. But, after he knew who I was, what kind of person I was, it seemed like it kind of changed him around. I know when I talked to him, he was totally different and things got better between us because he respected me.”

Now a Driver Retention Manager at PAM, Fred Meek was Jeffrey’s first Driver Manager at PAM. “After working at another trucking company for seven years, coming to PAM was my first attempt at being a Driver Manager and Jeffrey was on my first team,” remembers Fred. “He’d been my driver for a few months running a specific lane from Fort Smith to Panama City, which worked out great cause it was pretty close to his house and I remember asking him one time, ‘Your home time is coming up, what are you going to do?’ and he said, ‘Same thing I always do.’ I said, ‘Is that fishing, relaxing?’ And he said, ‘No, I take my chemo.’ I was floored. I said, ‘I didn’t know,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got leukemia.’

“I didn’t know he was sick because, you know, the medical department can’t tell us when someone is ill. Jeffrey usually took three days at home and I told him, ‘I’ll give you more time,’ and I’ll never forget his reply. He said, ‘Nope, I love what I do. I want to drive.’ That was a very emotional moment.

“At first I was sad because I know him as a person and a driver and so, for a few days I was feeling bad for him until it hit me, ‘Man, what a lucky guy.’ For a man to love what he does and not want to miss the work, in spite of this illness, I mean, I just fell in love with him. He’s a great guy anyway, but that was like, ‘Man, he’s a hero.’ This is a guy that doesn’t see adversity.”

Focusing on What Matters

Cancer in check, Jeffrey continues to drive for PAM and enjoy that sense of freedom that brought him to truck driving in the first place. Working with his Driver Manager and the Medical Review Department, he’s developed a system for communicating about his condition so that he gets the home time and medical care he needs while also staying true to that strong sense of personal responsibility — and his love for his work — by not missing any crucial assignments.

For Jeffrey, it’s almost like his life hasn’t been affected all that much by his diagnosis. “That’s the way I look at it: my life hasn’t changed,” he says. “I’m still working, still supporting my family and that’s the main thing to me, supporting my family. So as long as I’m doing that . . . there’s really no downtime for me so it doesn’t really affect me none. . . . I don’t know any other way to think about it because I believe and that’s what takes me through life. If I do my part, I’m going to be all right.”

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