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Profile: Dawn Rhodes, organizing local American Cancer Society

By DAWN HANKINS - dhankins@t-g.com
Posted 8/22/20

A Michigan native, Dawn Rhodes moved to Tennessee, when she was 15 years old. She grew up in Centerville in Hickman County, where she graduated from high school. She worked as a corporate flight attendant for several years. She enjoyed that, but says she yearned for a more traditional kind of family life. Soon came her second career, she says, which was raising her three children (now 18, 14 an 5); she and her husband have been married 20 years...

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Profile: Dawn Rhodes, organizing local American Cancer Society

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A Michigan native, Dawn Rhodes moved to Tennessee, when she was 15 years old. She grew up in Centerville in Hickman County, where she graduated from high school.

She worked as a corporate flight attendant for several years. She enjoyed that, but says she yearned for a more traditional kind of family life. Soon came her second career, she says, which was raising her three children (now 18, 14 an 5); she and her husband have been married 20 years.

A native of Murfreesboro, Rhodes previously worked with nonprofit-Girl Scouts of America. She advises her children lived the morale compass of GSA, so making a transition to the American Cancer Society was a transition.

Her close cousin passed away from leukemia; they as family endured every step. All of the children, his age, felt the sadness, she said.

“I really can recall Cancer being a part of our early years . . . vocabulary. Cancer wasn’t something that I wasn’t unfamiliar with, unfortunately. After the passing of my family, Cancer stuck with me a lot . . . changed a lot of trajectory and how I viewed Cancer.

She discovered her children could also be great advocates for the ACS, talking to others about not smoking and healthy eating. So she now serves as the community development manager for the north central region, which includes Bedford, Rutherford and Dickson Counties.

For the Rhodes Family, particularly Dawn, the “C” word hits close to home.

“I had a good friend of mine; her daughter passed away from leukemia at 9. I decided if I wanted to go non profit again, and move my career, it would be in that realm somewhere. The universe spoke . . . timing was right. The position was perfect. I just could not talk myself out of it.”

Yes, Cancer is something she’s all too well familiar; her father died from Cancer when she was only 9 years. Her mother’s passing from heart problems happened 6 months later.

“I went to the foster care system for a while, then went to live with my brother who was 10 years older than me.”

She stayed with her brother’s family for a short while. She then moved into her stepdad’s home, was pulled back into foster care, then a cousin and her husband cared for her until she was 15. It soon became necessary for her to get into the car and go to live with some friends in Centerville for a while. She graduated, then packed again and moved to Florida.

Rhodes says she had a dream of opening a bed and breakfast. She attended a Florida business school; she was living in her car at the time. Finding out that information, the school helped her out with a place to live and school enrollment.

Following business school, she obtained a flight attendant job with then Continental Airlines. After 9-11 happened, she took a furlough and opted for an early out from the company.

She soon met a pilot; he offered her a job. Because she had her FAA license, she only needed then to get another certification to become a corporate flight attendant with then Pace Airlines out of Winston Salem, N.C. When that American charter company failed, she began working a sports jet charter for colleges.

“That was such a wonderful experience . . . got to travel and met diverse groups of people at such a young age.”

Equally as good an educational experience has been her beginning with ACS. She attended ACS training, she said research was discussed a lot. What she found in those conversations was new found knowledge about the disease from a non profit which maintains nearly 40 Nobel laurates.

“We’re the largest private non profit Cancer research organization out there. They [ACS] are really strict where funding goes. You have to go through a process in order to be funded for Cancer research. We just don’t give labs money. You have to be the brightest and the best; they have to have made huge strides in Cancer research. They only fund the best and the brightest. I really felt that this organization was something I could morally get behind or stand behind.”

Today’s advancements in research to find a cure, she says, could have saved her father’s life back in the 1980s. She believes that perhaps the research, which is her passion, could have saved her cousin.

“I always try to find where my niche or passion would be in a certain organization . . . where I volunteer. I realize that’s definitely research. What they’ve done in the amount of research . . . $4.9 billion dollars was invested in Cancer research since 1946. That’s a lot of money.”

So why is there still no cure for cancer? That’s a good question, Rhodes says.

“I think it is a vicious animal and it has a lot of legs. I think the reason we don’t have the cure yet, there are so many variations of cancer out there. It’s such a transformative type of disease. Someone might be diagnosed with breast cancer and before you know it, they may die of pancreatic cancer. It’s a bigger disease than we’ve ever dealt with in our lives. Will we find a cure? I hope in my lifetime we do. With so many variations of cancer out there, it makes you wonder how we could find a cure yet.”

She does believe there are great strides being made in Cancer research. She is hopeful of the next generation and advancing technology.

“Where we there in the 1980s when my father passed away, no way. We weren’t even close, I think. My opinion . . . more technology needs to happen.”

Rhodes, who serves as the local ACS community development manager, can be reached by calling 615-879-9206.

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