Carmel Valley resident Gordon Cooke is what you might call an overachiever. After being diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2018 and undergoing aggressive treatment, he decided to join a contest to raise money for other blood-cancer survivors. And he won.
“Many people thought I was crazy to take on the fundraising effort, given all that I was going through with my cancer treatments,” he recalls. “But I found it gave me a strong focus to manage so many balls in the air at one time.”
During the spirited 10-week fundraising period, 58-year-old Cooke and his team raised $175,000 to support local blood-cancer survivors and contribute to finding cures for blood cancer. That’s why he’s been named Man of the Year by the San Diego Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Multiple myeloma is an aggressive form of blood cancer and it came on strong for Cooke after being diagnosed in 2018. “The myeloma caused me to have renal failure which is what caused me to go to Urgent Care in the first place,” he explains. “I am now on kidney dialysis and do a home dialysis every night for nine hours.”
The pressure of balancing numerous treatments while still maintaining a full-time job and family have been challenging to say the least, but Cooke has remained undaunted. “My focus has been to be diligent in following the treatments and having a good diet and exercising daily. The results have been terrific, as the cancer markers have come way down and my doctors are very happy with the outcome. Luckily I have a strong faith and that has helped me emotionally as I focus on trying to live a normal life, despite the enormous strains of the cancer and other health-related issues.”
In addition to multiple myeloma, Gordon also has a rare disease called Von Hippel-Lindau disease, or VHL, which creates vascular tumors in his brain and spine. His treatments have been geared toward getting the cancer under control and eradicating the tumor swelling in his central nervous system as well. Cooke takes prodigious amounts of medication on a daily basis, as well as regularly undergoing infusion treatments at Scripps Hospital.
When Cooke decided to join the fundraising contest, one of the first things he did was form a team he called “Gordon’s Groupies.” Team members met once a week to discuss their marketing plan, and hosted three very successful fundraisers over the 10-week period, putting them at the top of the list. “I’m very proud to have won the 2019 Man of the Year award from LLS,” says Cooke. “It is a great institution and it’s rewarding to have raised so much money to help combat blood cancer. I am also proud of the great teamwork we displayed and the quality of the fundraising events we did over the 10-week period.”
Cooke grew up on the East Coast and attended Georgetown University on an Army ROTC scholarship. Once he graduated, he was assigned to the Defense Language School in Monterey and fell in love with California. After getting his MBA at UCLA, he worked in the financial services industry and currently works at Northern Trust Company, a top provider of holistic wealth-management services. He’s been married for 25 years to his wife, Julie. They have a 16-year-old son, Charlie, who’ll enter his junior year at Torrey Pines High School in the fall.
Doctors are optimistic about Cooke’s future since his results have been pretty solid so far. Cooke will undergo a stem-cell transplant next to try to get rid of the remaining cancer and put him squarely in remission. If he can stay in remission for two years, he will be eligible for a kidney transplant, which would allow him to get off dialysis for good.
Just as Cooke has been so generous with his time and efforts, he’s realized the same about others. ”I learned that people are generous when presented with a great giving opportunity,” he says.
“Congratulations to our winners, and to all of our candidates and campaign team members who participated in this year’s Man & Woman of the Year campaign,” said Kathlene Seymour, LLS San Diego executive director. “These exceptional volunteers are all passionate and determined individuals, and leaders in their communities. Together, we are getting closer to LLS’s goal of a world without blood cancer.”
Visit the Man & Woman of the Year website at www.mwoy.org or go to https://www.lls.org/san-diego-hawaii to learn more.