Simon Cancer Center volunteer, cancer patient rides for the cause

People who meet Dave Jackson for the first time quickly learn two things – he wants to finish the race, and he wants to inspire others.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J.Banes,

First he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Then Dave Jackson decided to volunteer for IU Health Simon Cancer Center and the Cancer Resource Center.

Volunteers are trained by five agency partners – including the American Cancer Society, Cancer Support Community, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Little Red Door, and Susan G. Komen of Central Indiana to connect patients and families with information about their diagnosis and treatment as well as community programs and support services. Jackson brings an extra punch to the service. He is a cancer patient at IU Health Simon Cancer Center and is in the care of Dr. Paul Helft.

He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December of 2016 and began volunteering two years later.

“I wanted to focus on others,” said Jackson, a retired chemist with Eli Lilly who is married to Leanne Jackson. They have two daughters Katie Cannon and Emily Jackson. “I thought, ‘I’m being treated here. They’re keeping me alive, so why not volunteer here,’” said Jackson, 66. He comes to the hospital twice a month and is generally seen pushing a cart offering books, puzzles, and other complimentary materials to patients and families.

“I don’t often share my personal story but when I have I have seen it make an impact,” said Jackson. He relates how one day he was volunteering in the infusion center where a woman was sitting with her adult daughter. The mother was struggling and when Jackson told her that he is also a cancer survivor the woman’s demeanor changed

“I could see her visibly relax and I knew that was the whole reason I was there that day,” said Jackson.

It’s the kind of response he hopes for when he talks to others about cancer.

“Cancer affects every aspect of my life but doesn’t control me. I want people to know that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean your life stops. As long as I can do the things I love to do, I will do them,” said Jackson.

One of his favorite pastimes is bicycling – not just around the block – but serious distances. For the second year, he recently completed the Empire State Ride to End Cancer, a 500-mile ride that starts in Staten Island and ends in Niagara Falls. He and his wife are originally from New York State so the ride interested them geographically but also for the purpose – to raise funds for cancer research. Jackson averaged 40 miles a day for a total of 295 miles during the seven-day ride. He was one of 180 riders who raised in excess of $1 million for the cause – a 40 percent increase over last year’s ride.

A member of the Central Indiana Bike Association, Jackson has also participated in local rides including the Hilly Hundred, Spokes of Hope, and 24 Foundation, a ride that benefits IU Health Simon Cancer Center.

In addition to biking, Jackson practices yoga, he and his wife walk 5Ks, he plays golf and in recent years took up the violin and plays with the orchestra at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.

“I was listening to Joshua Bell play Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and I was in tears it was so beautiful. I thought, ‘it’s nice to listen to but it would be even more fun to play it,’” said Jackson.

“I think people who know me know I’m 66 on the outside but I’m 11 on the inside. I’m not going to let cancer slow me down.”