Scott Blackshaw picked through the rubble of Ground Zero, dutifully searching for 9/11 victims. As the weeks wore on, his assignment shifted to mostly standing watch over the ruins.
Today, the retired NYPD officer has terminal cancer, and he’s relying on a half-dozen of his friends, family and neighbors in Huntington Station to get through these difficult days.
He calls them his angels.
They call themselves Team Scotty.
Sometimes they take him out for a taco run. Sometimes they take him into their homes during a rough stretch. Someone straightens out a medical bill. Someone else watches his dog. Another just sits and listens.
Nearly six weeks at “the pile” — the wreckage of the World Trade Center — is what brought Blackshaw, 52, to where he is.
The first symptom of cancer didn’t appear until April 2015.
“One Sunday morning, I had a bagel with cream cheese, and about three-quarters the way down my throat, it stopped,” said the 6-foot-1 Blackshaw, who is down to 125 pounds from 170.
Doctors have operated five times on the cancers attacking his brain and esophagus.
Now, he is relying on holistic treatments — supplements and vitamins to strengthen his immune system — and the angels he trusts to help him press on.
“Without them I’d be in bed alone, moaning,” Blackshaw said.
When Sonja Mellynchuk heard Blackshaw had cancer, something clicked.
They were hardly close, just neighbors.
“I was shocked at how much it hit me,” said Mellynchuk, 34.
She recalled how Blackshaw would occasionally cut the grass for her and her husband for free, back when he had a landscaping business on the side.
In March, Blackshaw told her he had a new doctor but the earliest appointment was in May.
She called the doctor’s office herself. The doctor opened the office that Sunday, just for Blackshaw.
“I brought him to the appointment,” she said.
Every Thursday, David Blackshaw drives five hours from Virginia to visit his younger brother.
David is the paperwork guy: keeping up with bills, staying on top of insurance notices and so on.
Their closeness is a turn in their relationship.
They were hardly close growing up. David is four years older and took off for the Navy at age 19.
The brothers have a lot of time to talk now. A subject that comes up again and again is 9/11 — and how it keeps taking lives even after all these years.
They talk about family. They fill in each other’s forgotten memories. And they laugh.
“We start telling stories,” David Blackshaw said, “then reality hits.”
The high school friends
Mike Stillwagon and Scott Blackshaw were buddies at Northport High School, connected by their love of classic cars and motorcycles.
After high school, Stillwagon married and Blackshaw joined the NYPD. He never married.
In March, Stillwagon drove from New York to Florida to spend a week with Blackshaw at his second home in Florida.
Over the years, Stillwagon’s wife, who also attended Northport High, has become Blackshaw’s good friend, too.
Sue Stillwagon likes to clean Blackshaw’s house when he’s out for a bit. She loves the look on his face when he sees the place suddenly spick-and-span.
The other day Sue Stillwagon received a text from Blackshaw. She knew the effort it took. The neuropathy in his hands, a side effect of so much chemotherapy, makes it hard for him to maneuver his smartphone.
In the text, Blackshaw asked if there was anything he could do for her.
“I cried for a half-hour,” Sue Stillwagon said.
Some three years ago, Wayne Forte got a call from Blackshaw. It was bad news — cancer.
“I said, ‘Whatever you need,’ ” recalled Forte, 47, who has known Blackshaw for 20 years.
Blackshaw moved into Forte’s home in Northport for a week while he underwent tests.
Now, once or twice a week, the retired firefighter takes Blackshaw to the doctor. It’s a juggling act, figuring out how to get his friend where he needs to be and getting his two boys to their hockey games, driver’s ed classes and so on.
“We’re all battling this together,” Forte said. “We’re all Team Scotty.”