Gordon: Had to learn how to live

Published 11:32 pm Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cancer survivor and yoga enthusiast Catherine Rankin-Gordon said she had to adjust to life after cancer after beating Hodgkins Lymphona when she was younger. -- Tim Reeves

Editor’s note: This story is a continuation of our series focusing on cancer survivors in advance of the Dallas County Relay for Life set for April 29-30 at Memorial Stadium.

A ray of golden sunlight and a cool, crisp breeze embraced her face as she sprinted around the garden surrounding Sturdivant Hall. For nearly two years, Catherine Rankin-Gordon has begun running again with a burst of sudden energy, which hasn’t always been the case.

As a young child growing up on a farm in Marengo County, Gordon was very active — running five-to-nine miles daily, involved in physical training, playing tennis and any sport she could think of.

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Gordon, who has two older brothers and a younger sister, describes herself as artistic.

“I hardly ever go the popular route,” Gordon said. “I love to write, paint and dance and in high school I was in theater. I just have a need to express my emotion through visual, physical and written art; I like to try new things.”

Gordon’s parents divorced when she was only 3, leaving she and her siblings to find their own way. Gordon, who later discovered her artistic abilities came from her mother, acknowledged growing up was hard.

“It was very difficult,” Gordon said. “I wasn’t allowed to be myself. It took a long time to adjust but I love my mother immensely. I didn’t appreciate my artistic abilities or understand them until I met her again at 16; she’s my inspiration.”

In November 2000, an 18-year-old Gordon recalled her symptoms of tiredness when she would go to the doctor. Gordon, who had been active all of her life, felt the symptoms were strange.

“I was wiped out, couldn’t get out of bed and I had no motivation,” Gordon said. “I had even lost weight. I had gone to the doctor four times and they thought it was mononucleosis.”

What doctors presumed as mono was in fact Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer found in the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, bone marrow and other sites. Most common for people between the ages of 15-35 and then 50-70, there are more than 8,000 new cases each year.

With visible tumors apparent in her lymph nodes, Gordon said she told no one of her diagnosis.

“I went to lunch with my family later that day,” Gordon said. “When I told them a few days later, they didn’t know how to deal with it — they ignored it.”

Gordon went through seven months of chemotherapy at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham before returning home.

“It was very humiliating, there was no privacy,” Gordon said. “I was young but therapy made me feel like I had the body of an old person. I felt like a paraplegic — like a reject. I felt ashamed.”

Gordon’s older brother Patrick was more sympathetic towards her, taking her under his wing during her treatment.

“We watched British movies together and we had British tea parties in bed,” Gordon chuckled.

Gordon has been cancer free for more than 10 years. She credits an interest to such exercise techniques as Pilates, Yoga and natural medicine as the reason for her quick recovery.

“I couldn’t run anymore; I couldn’t handle stress; I had to rehabilitate myself,” Gordon said. “I also went through self-teaching, which helped me get well and gain a lot more wisdom and understanding as to why people get sick. No one ever told me why I got sick or how to prevent it; I had to figure out how to live again.”

At 29, Gordon is truly “living again” and has enjoyed her marriage to her husband, Robert. She gives this advice to those who may have walked in her shoes.

“When you get sick physically, our body is saying that our lives must change,” Gordon said. “It bothers me that there’s not more money spent towards cancer prevention. Gain knowledge about medicine, give yourself a break and allow your body to heal itself, because it can in the right environment.”