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Cancer executive intervenes to rescue The Caring Place

When Jeff Gordon was diagnosed with later-stage Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2000, there wasn’t a tranquil (and free) therapy center for cancer patients in Las Vegas.

As president and chief executive officer of the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation, Gordon was well-versed in the technical aspects of cancer treatment. But it was the spiritual element of fighting the disease that Gordon discovered during treatment, which is why he decided to intervene when The Caring Place was on the brink of shutting down.

The Caring Place was founded by local oncologist Mary Ann Allison and one of her breast-cancer patients, Connie Bernstein, in 2008. The facility at 4425 S. Jones Blvd. offers a free menu of healing arts programs designed to address the emotional and spiritual aspects of fighting cancer. Licensed professionals volunteer services in yoga, massage, reflexology, counseling and jewelry-making for 1,000 individuals per year.

Allison was also Gordon’s oncologist when he was first diagnosed, and she turned to him when the center began struggling to find funds. The Caring Place has no national affiliation, and relies mostly on local donations to survive.

Allison approached Gordon in January as a representative of The Caring Place’s board of directors and asked him to consider folding the center into the foundation. Gordon took the idea to the foundation’s board, which made it official on Thursday.

"We can’t step forward and save everybody, but this one needed to stay in the community," Gordon said.

The merger will expand both nonprofits’ services. The Caring Place will be a program within the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation.

Prior to the acquisition, the foundation focused exclusively on services for children, including tutoring, transportation, counseling and toys. With the addition of The Caring Place to its program lineup, the foundation will be able to help adults, as well.

"For us to be able to extend programs is a dream come true," said Pati Kearns, The Caring Place’s executive director.

The Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation’s partnership with the center began two years ago, when the foundation referred parents and grandparents of children with cancer to The Caring Place for the center’s "Care for the Caregivers" program.

Gordon said the partnership made him realize how valuable the center was to the community.

Kearns and her tiny team of one part-time and two full-time employees strive to create an ambiance of tranquility at the facility. People whisper outside the center’s three therapy rooms. Sunlight filters in softly through the meditation area’s drapes. The center even has a library with stacks of cancer-related books.

Gordon considered uprooting The Caring Place and moving it to the foundation’s campus at 6070 S. Eastern Ave., Suite 200, but decided against it.

"I don’t know if the incredible feeling or atmosphere can be brought anywhere else," he said.

Dr. Mary Ann Allison, who has been practicing medicine in Las Vegas since 1993, wanted The Caring Place to feel like a resort. She founded the center after visiting a retreat in Tucson, Ariz., to unwind from her work treating cancer patients. Allison realized that if a peaceful atmosphere could soothe her soul, it could also work wonders for people who have much larger stresses to face — like terminal illness.

"We have a lot of similarities," Allison said about her decision to approach the foundation. "I wanted to see The Caring Place become as much as it could."

Allison will remain involved with The Caring Place; she is joining the board of the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation.

Contact reporter Caitlin McGarry at cmcgarry @lvbusinesspress.com or 702-387-5273.

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