OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — Most of us know someone affected by cancer. The uncertainty of that diagnosis can leave patients feeling scared or overwhelmed. But inside one cancer treatment facility in the metro, one woman’s goal is easing that anxiety. She’s known by many as the “Best Hugger in Oklahoma.”
Jeff Murray first walked through the doors of Oklahoma Proton Center in 2010 after receiving his diagnosis of prostate cancer at just 45 years old. According to the American Cancer Society, the average age of men who receive the same diagnosis is 66.
“When you get cancer, so many emotions run through your head,” Jeff said.
But Jeff’s anxiety was eased by a woman named Nataliya Butler, a therapy team assistant, who has poured out positivity on patients since the center opened in 2009.
“She gives the best hugs in Oklahoma,” Jeff said. “And she just makes everyone feel so welcome.”
Back in 2010, Jeff was the 290th patient to earn his challenge coin after completing treatment. Now about 4,800 have done the same – that’s 4,800 potential hugs that Nataliya has handed out over the years.
Jeff says Nataliya also knows everyone’s name – and they absolutely know hers.
“Nataliya will come out and get one of them, give them a big ol’ hug or say hello, and these guys all smile and say, ‘Man, she’s the best. She makes this place run.'”
Jeff nominated Nataliya for a $400 Pay It 4Ward award from First Fidelity Bank, presented by Dylan Masri.
“We understand when people are going through a tough time, a good, positive presence really does go a long way, and that’s something that we really want to support by acknowledging her today. And we’re excited to Pay It 4Ward to Natalyia,” Dylan said.
Dylan handed the money to Jeff for the big surprise, while Nataliya’s coworkers gathered to watch.
“You were told that Channel 4 was here to do a story on the proton center, but we’re actually here for you,” News 4’s Heather Holeman told Nataliya.
“Oh my goodness,” she replied.
Jeff handed over the $400 and said, “I want to make sure everybody in Oklahoma knows how important you are, and the things you do to help people. Cancer patients need good hugs, and you’re the best. We truly appreciate everything you’ve done for the center, for the patients, you are a rock star.”
“Thank you very much,” Nataliya said as she gave Jeff one of her trademark hugs.
“I really enjoy my patients. They make me happy,” she said.
“If we could clone her, we would make a couple of her,” said Tracy Reece, Nataliya’s boss.
Not only is Nataliya known for her hugs, but she was once a massage therapist, and also gives back rubs to patients as she leads them to their room. “They say, ‘Thank you for your back rub,’ and I say, ‘Of course – not trying to be creepy or anything,'” Nataliya said, laughing.
Jeff is now a former patient, who, like Nataliya, also lightens the load for patients, by leading the non-profit organization Proton Pals Foundation.
“We had an opportunity to figure out a way to provide patients gas cards, meal money, hotel stays, access to mental health professionals,” Jeff said.
Those gifts require donations. The Proton Pals Foundation has two upcoming fundraisers involving several fun events. If you would like to volunteer or donate, click here. You might even get a chance to receive one of Nataliya’s renowned hugs!
Pay It 4Ward is sponsored by First Fidelity Bank.