They're Glad He Came

January 15, 2017
By: Julie Poucher Harbin, Writer, DCI

Duke Retiree-Turned-Cancer-Survivor Brings New Meaning to Service

Cancer center volunteer Jim Slaughter hugs pancreatic cancer patient Jean Spencer. They first met when they were both patients in 2014. Jim said he’s grateful to his oncology team — John Strickler, MD, PA Evan Dropkin, and Sabino Zani, MD —whom he said “pretty much pulled off a miracle.” Now he has the chance to give back.Plenty busy with fishing, golfing and grandchildren, Jim Slaughter, a Duke retiree, doesn’t just volunteer because he has the time; he volunteers because, as they say, he has the heart.

Diagnosed three years ago with stage 4 small bowel cancer, Slaughter knows first-hand the challenges, both physical and emotional, associated with oncology care. His onetime professional affiliation with Duke, sense of humor and life-changing bout with cancer drive him to try and make the experiences of others the best possible.

“When cancer got my attention, I figured that 42 years of service was enough,” recalled Slaughter, who retired a year after his diagnosis.

His career had included managing housekeeping, directing the student labor pool and overseeing the Bryan University Center facilities before moving to special events services. A jack of all trades, he’d handled logistics for two presidential visits, an untold number of football and basketball games, and rock acts like the Grateful Dead (four times), Joni Mitchell, and Earth, Wind & Fire.

No one would have blamed him for just wanting to wind down after decades working what he fondly described as a “circus job where never a mundane day went by.” Not to mention a challenging battle with cancer.

But in February 2015, as soon as his scans were clear, he returned to work at Duke — this time as a volunteer at Duke Cancer Center.

“I wanted to see the volunteers I’d made friends with in the clinic when I was getting chemo,” Slaughter said. “They had made it so much easier for me and my family when I was here, the least I could do was give back.”

Slaughter is no stranger to the oncology treatment floor, where he spends four hours a week greeting patients with warm blankets and snacks and often, a hug.

He lets everyone he meets know that he’s also a patient. He said it helps him communicate better with patients when they know that he knows what it’s like. He checks up on them and they check up on him, like when his doctor discovered a cancerous lymph node last April. (His scans have since been clear)

“We probably get more out of this than the patients, isn’t that right,” quipped Slaughter, grabbing a coffee with leukemia survivor and fellow volunteer Kenneth Roberts, a retired school superintendent who trained him to be a volunteer.

Not even an icy storm this January could keep Slaughter away from the place where everybody seems to know his name. He got into his four-wheel-drive and reported for duty.

“Jim is just a really special man who makes you feel like you’ve known him forever,” said Pam Oldham, a patient who’s lived with stage four metastatic breast cancer since 2004. “He brings hope and encouragement. He always goes the extra mile.”

Consider supporting cutting-edge research on colorectal cancer by Duke Cancer Institute's multi-disciplinary Gastrointestinal (GI) Oncology Program by participating in or donating to the 2017 CRUSH Colorectal Cancer 5K and Walk, to be held on Saturday, March 25, in Durham. For more information or to register, visit CRUSH. You can also keep up with race news and developments on Facebook and Twitter.

Learn more about current volunteer opportunities at Duke University Hospital and Duke Cancer Center.

Duke University Hospital Volunteer Services produced the above video. 

 

Circle photo (top): Jim Slaughter poses with infusion nurse Jason Masker, BSN, RN, OCN. Masker was one of Jim’s nurses when he was getting chemotherapy treatment for small bowel cancer. Now Jim helps him as a volunteer.