Healthcare Achievement Awards 2018: Volunteer of the Year
Eight years ago, Sue Gordon began volunteering at the Columbus Cancer Clinic, one of the oldest independent cancer clinics in the country. She figured she'd try it for a few months or maybe a year and then move on.
Today, Gordon is still showing up every Monday at the clinic, which provides low-cost and free cancer screenings and mammograms at its offices on West Mound Street on the West Side. She started out answering the phones, but her duties have expanded to include weighing patients, taking blood pressures and lending a sympathetic ear to those nervous about what their tests might show. Gordon even has a white lab coat with her name on it. “Some people look at me and think I'm a doctor,” Gordon says with a laugh. “Nope. Not a doctor, not even a nurse. I don't have any medical background.”
That doesn't mean she hasn't had a big impact. Financial struggles led the Columbus Cancer Clinic in 2005 to join LifeCare Alliance, an umbrella healthcare nonprofit best known for managing Meals on Wheels programs in Franklin, Madison, Marion, Champaign and Logan counties. The consolidation of back-office services under
LifeCare Alliance has provided a critical financial benefit to the clinic, which serves mostly low-income folks. But volunteers such as Gordon also have been important in keeping the organization going while other independent cancer clinics have closed. If Gordon or another volunteer is working the front desk, then LifeCare Alliance doesn't need to pay someone to do the job. “I don't know how you replace people like Sue,” says Charles Gehring, CEO of LifeCare Alliance. “She is just a crusader for this stuff and has been wonderful and helped out clients I know independently over the years.”
Gordon's volunteer work grew out of her own experiences with cancer. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995, she had a lumpectomy and her lymph nodes removed. Two years later, she suffered a reoccurrence, which resulted in a mastectomy. She credits family support and a positive outlook for helping her get through the health crisis. “I made up my mind, and I said I can either sit back and cry about it or pull myself up by the bootstraps and fight it head on, and that's what I chose to do,” says Gordon, who's been cancer-free since 1997.
Twelve years ago, a friend recruited her to join the Grove City-based Florence Grossman Cancer Ray group, a fundraising organization that supports the Columbus Cancer Clinic. That role then led to her more direct volunteer work at the clinic. “She does a lot of the groundwork,” Gehring says, “and that's harder to find in this modern age, to get people to show up week after week after week.”
Gordon typically spends about six hours every Monday at the clinic. She also remains deeply involved with the Grossman Ray Group, adopting a family dealing with cancer during the holidays and raising money through the group's annual card party—$1,500 in 2016.
She's grown to love the staff at the clinic, too, and she's managed to bond with patients despite some significant barriers. “We get a lot of people who can't even speak English, and we provide them with a translator,” she says. She often shares her own experiences with nervous patients. “I kind of give them a little background and tell them it's not as scary as what they think,” she says. “And if somebody thinks they maybe have breast cancer, I tell them I'm living proof that there is life after cancer. It kind of calms their fears.”
Gordon remains dedicated to the cause. “People say, ‘When are you going to quit?' ” says Gordon, 69, a retired hairdresser who lives in German Village. “I say, ‘I guess I'll know when the time is right.' But right now, I just don't feel like quitting.” And her friends at the Columbus Cancer Clinic and LifeCare Alliance are glad to hear that. “Her passion and selflessness has left a lasting mark on the Columbus Cancer Clinic, LifeCare Alliance and the central Ohio community as a whole,” wrote Bethany Molnar, grants and data coordinator for LifeCare Alliance in her Healthcare Achievement Award nomination form. “Without her dedication, the agency truly would be unable to help all those in need.”