Loss Brings IMM Donor’s Generosity to Life
Sixteen years ago, Steve Gordon and his wife, Janice, lived in a dream world—a world that ended in one day. “I guess we all think that if you get sick, you go to the doctor, the doctor cures you, and you go home,” he says. “And then one day you’re told there’s no cure.”
At age 54, Janice Gordon’s colonoscopy revealed stage four colon cancer. While the disease can usually be overcome in its early stages, it is almost always fatal if caught later. “She knew from the minute they came out of the room,” Steve Gordon says. Doctors gave Janice Gordon six months to live, but she and Steve Gordon fought the disease for two years before she passed. As her main caregiver, he saw the toll the cancer took.
“The tragic things that happen in your life motivate you to do something,” he says. Since his wife’s passing 14 years ago, Gordon has worked with UTHealth to fight the disease that took her life. He pledged $250,000 in 2004 to establish an endowed faculty position, called the Janice Davis Gordon Distinguished Professorship in Bowel Cancer Research, at McGovern Medical School’s Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine (IMM). After fulfilling the pledge in 2009, he enhanced the position to an endowed chair with an additional $250,000 commitment. “The goal in my mind is to find, if not a cure, at least a treatment for advanced colon cancer that would allow people to live sort of like when people are diagnosed with diabetes,” Gordon says.
Dr. Qingyun “Jim” Liu is the current faculty holder of the Janice Davis Gordon Chair in Bowel Cancer Research, and he is exploring treatments that could give new hope to patients. One particular avenue is called “targeted therapy,” which introduces medicine directly into the cancer to kill it without harming surrounding tissue. “This approach could potentially treat patients much more effectively than we have been able to do so far,” Dr. Liu says.
Gordon knows it’s a tough disease to fight. He remembers his wife undergoing chemotherapies that would work for a few months before the cancer found a way around them. But he is encouraged by Dr. Liu’s work indicating major treatment advances may finally be on the way. “I don’t want to give up,” Gordon says. “I don’t know any other route than to try to help the research go forward.” Recently remarried, Gordon is determined that he will not be stricken with colon cancer. He touts his bi-annual colonoscopy appointments like badges of honor and insists that everyone over 50 should have the test done frequently. “They told me if my wife had gotten a colonoscopy six months or a year before she did, she would probably be alive today,” he says. “It’s that important.”
In addition to giving to support colon cancer research, Gordon dedicates his time to fighting disease by serving on the UTHealth Development Board and the IMM Advisory Council. “You don’t just stand by as a bystander and hope somebody else is doing something,” he says. “You can feel like you’ve done a little bit in the way of helping mankind toward a cure for a deadly disease.” It’s a mindset he shares with many others; most of the donors he meets at dinners and meetings have had similar experiences, shaken out of complacency and into action when they or someone they love were struck with a serious illness. They know, as he does, that even if they can’t do it all, they can make a difference. “In the big picture, what I’m giving is not even a water drop, but you try to do what you can, and maybe in the future at some point there will be a solution to this,” he says. “That’s what we hope for.”
If you would like to make a gift, or to request for more information about the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine, please contact Lise Cameron, Director of Development, at 713-500-7457 or Allison.H.Cameron@uth.tmc.edu.