By Mira Brody EBS Staff
BIG SKY – When Dr. Patricia Gordon got her first locker at Moonlight Basin, she felt like the luckiest person in the world. The licensed medical oncologist, since arriving in Big Sky nearly two decades ago, has fallen in love with the mountain, met her late husband, Len Hill, been comforted by her community after Hill’s death five years ago, taught their grandchildren how to ski, started a thriving global nonprofit and, most recently, provided the new Big Sky Community Center, BASE, with a place to call home.
When it comes to giving back to her community—and the world for that matter—Gordon is an expert.
Gordon recalls, many years ago, being at the Riverhouse Grill one afternoon when a bus full of children pulled up for lunch. She said they appeared to be in different stages of cancer treatment and quickly learned that they were with the adaptive recreation organization, Eagle Mount.
After chatting with their program director, Gordon learned that the children had been looking forward to a talent show and dinner that evening, but that their host had dropped out at the last minute. Gordon stepped in, invited the children to her and Hill’s home at the Yellowstone Club, set up a makeshift stage and fired up the barbeque. The tradition stuck for 12 years until it was officially adopted by the YC.
“The Yellowstone Club became not just a second home, it became part of our DNA,” said Gordon. “It was our real circle of family and friends. After Len’s death, those were the friends who got me through it.”
“Len told me, ‘We are no longer guests of Big Sky. We need to donate to our community,’” said Gordon of their generous donation of $500,000 to what is now Big Sky Medical Center’s Len Hill emergency department.
When word spread that the land Big Sky Community Organization sought for BASE was up for sale, executive director Ciara Wolfe, knew exactly who to reach out to.
“The land was up for sale to developers and that got my attention,” said Gordon. “I said, absolutely.”
Gordon’s 1.5 million dollars was not only the first donation made to the community center, but secured the land that workers began construction on just last month where the community of Big Sky will gather for generations to come.
Philanthropy that crosses borders
Right now, much of Gordon’s energy goes toward CureCervicalCancer, the nonprofit organization she founded that travels to resource-poor countries around the world, screens women for pre-cervical cancer, and treats it before it develops further. In August 2014, she formally retired from her clinical practice to lead CCC and start her second career as a non-profit leader and international women’s health advocate.
“My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner,” said Gordon. “It’s been the most rewarding professional thing I’ve ever done in my life. I often feel that it’s not really me even doing it.”
300,000 women die of cervical cancer a year, yet the disease is 95% preventable. The death of a matriarch in these countries has a domino effect—when children are orphaned, sons will often drop out of school and turn to gangs. On top of that, a death from this type of cancer is extremely painful and undignified, yet it is the leading cause of cancer deaths in low-resource countries.
Treatment technology used in developed countries does not work well in resource-poor countries, so Gordon’s clinics utilize a technique endorsed by the World Health Organization known as “See and Treat” which takes less than 15 minutes and it has a nearly 100 percent success rate. It involves a low-cost tool called a cryotherapy gun that treats pre-cervical cancer lesions.
CCC is responsible for 100 sustainable clinics around the world from Vietnam, Kenya, Haiti to Guatemala that not only treat patients, but also educate and empower nurses of those clinic’s people with a new job skill, making them more employable.
“You can see how meaningful the services are in the community,” said Rea Palsule, CCC’s program director. Palsule is utilizing her experience with CCC and applying to medical school. “You see your impacts pretty quickly when you’re on these trips.”
The most difficult part, she said, is creating a comforting atmosphere for individuals so they will in turn accept the screening. Once they are though, the affect is contagious—women come back with their friends and family and the benefits of their work in these clinics is quickly spread through word of mouth. Women walk for miles with children in tow for treatment and for many, this is the first time they’ve ever seen a doctor.
“After we’ve arrived we’re in a room in the middle of a slum with no air conditioning, dirt everywhere and room dividers made of sheets for privacy,” said Gordon. “There is no time in my life where I am more where my shoes are. All of a sudden everything else in my life is gone and the only thing I’m supposed to do is be right there.”
Finding a home for BASE
Between flying around the world with her steadfast team treating cancer, Gordon settles into the mountain town Big Sky dwellers call home and sets her sights on improving the community that has given her so much over the years. She believes a community center is vital to Big Sky’s physical and behavioral health, providing its people with a home for much-needed services.
“Without the working people of Big Sky, without the people who run our restaurants and serve us and at the grocery store and run the lifts, Big Sky is nothing,” Gordon said. “To not have a proper place for those people to work out, to read a book in, to bring their children to rock climb at, what have we done? We owe it to them.”
Gordon cited the reputation ski towns hold for drug abuse, poor mental health and a middle-class workforce that relies on more than one job to get by and how much relief she feels a community center would offer.
“A behavioral health center is imperative,” she said. “We must provide this to our community. It’s not even a luxury, it’s just something we have to do.”
A fervent philanthroper, Gordon is one who refuses to be indifferent to the needs of her community and is one of many giving spirits that makes Big Sky a place with heart.