It was in 2002 that Gary Sisson got devastating news. His wife was diagnosed with lung cancer. Months later she caught pneumonia and died.

Gary received a sympathy card from his wife’s oncologist. He was so moved by the gesture he decided to pay the doctor a visit.

“He gave me a lifeline and a powerful way to channel my grief,” Gary said. “He told me that Park Nicollet oncology could use someone like me as a volunteer. I wanted to honor the memory of my wife. And I also wanted to support others as they go through the physical and emotional aspects of cancer.”

For Gary, volunteering provided the chance to talk to patients and their families. He was able to make them laugh. He was able to share his own experience.

“I also saw how I helped the patients and their families,” he said. “When they are diagnosed, it is scary. And, when they first come for treatment, they don’t know what to expect. I think it eased their anxiety a bit to talk to someone who had been there and done that.”

Several years later, in 2009, HealthPartners Frauenshuh Cancer Center opened on Methodist Hospital’s campus and began seeing patients. Gary was the first volunteer there to greet them. But as he helped support others, he had no idea that he would eventually become a patient there, too.

“In 2017, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” he said. “I was kind of scared. Even after going through cancer with my wife and all of my years of volunteering and talking to patients, this time, the shoe was on the other foot.”

Gary knew he would get the best care, though. And he loved that HealthPartners Frauenshuh Cancer Center was designed with the patient in mind. The private rooms gave him the quiet he needed to read and relax during treatments.

HealthPartners Frauenshuh Cancer Center expands to serve a growing need

Construction began to add even more of those rooms that Gary loved in November 2017. The HealthPartners Frauenshuh Cancer Center team had identified in 2015 that they needed more space to serve patients. So they partnered with Park Nicollet Foundation to ask the community for support for an expansion.

The response to this ask was overwhelming. Community leaders and individuals donated more than $4 million to add another level to the cancer center. It opened to patients on May 7, 2018 to provide not only more treatment rooms, but space for more survivorship programming as well.

“We are proud of the world-class care HealthPartners Frauenshuh Cancer Center provides to our community,” David and Sandra Frauenshuh said. “We are humbled and honored to everyone who has joined us in committing to build a lasting legacy of innovative, compassionate cancer care that will grow with our community’s needs.”

Gary continues to volunteer his time

During his treatment, Gary had to step away from volunteering. But today, he is in remission and back to giving back.

“My conversations with patients have taken on a new dimension,” he said. “Now, I tell them that in addition to being a family member, I am a patient, too. When I tell them this, I see something a little different in their response to me. They know I made it through, so maybe they can, too.”