13th annual run to honor late Dr. Donald Cole
Service to God, service to country and service to family - these are the things that sum up the life and legacy of Lebanon's Dr. Donald Cole. Whether he was serving his country as a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army or serving as a medical missionary in the jungles of Ecuador, Cole's life was marked by service to others.
Just a few years after his move to Wilson County 20 years ago, Cole had a patient named Sherry Whitaker, a young wife and mother diagnosed with an aggressive form of colon cancer. Though she fought hard, she lost her battle in 2004. That same year, her family and friends came together to organize the inaugural Sherry's Run to raise money for cancer research. Through his gastroenterology practice, Cole was one of the first and most supportive sponsors of the event.
A few years later, the Sherry's Run board faced some big decisions. In the event's early years, funds raised had gone entirely to research, but board members saw a great need for assistance in the community. Several board members sat down with Dr. Cole and asked, "What is the best way for us to prevent other families from facing what Sherry's family went through?'
Cole was already seeing patients he believed to have cancer but could not afford a colonoscopy. So he began partnering with Sherry's Run to provide a colonoscopy assistance program. His practice offered colonoscopies to qualifying patients at a very discounted rate, and Sherry's Run used the funds raised at the event to pay the rest.
But Cole didn't stop there.
He also suggested that Sherry's Run partner with his practice to distribute colon cancer screening kits to the community for free. The American College of Gastroenterology recommends everyone have a routine colonoscopy beginning at age 50 or before if there is a family history. For everyone under 50, they recommend a colon cancer screening each year. It has been the mission of Sherry's Run to make this possible for every Wilson County resident ever since. Cole's practice helped fund the cost of processing the kits and following up with patients.
As the community's needs grew, the colonoscopy assistance program evolved into what is now the patient assistance program, which allows Sherry's Run to help patients with all types of cancer. The colonoscopy assistance program Cole helped start is still in place as well, and the funds raised via Sherry's Run are used to assist cancer patients and their families in Wilson County and the surrounding communities.
"Many lives have been saved because of Dr. Cole's willingness to help us with the colon cancer screening program," Tonyia Stockton, director of patient assistance for Sherry's Run, said. "It was so important to him that the people in this community receive the best care possible, and a big part of that is prevention. Dr. Cole knew that, and he was such a great partner in raising awareness." In fact, Cole was known for having coined the phrase, "Don't die of embarrassment," in response to those who were hesitant to have their routine colonoscopy.
Cole and his practice also supported Sherry's Run in other ways - they have been faithful sponsors of the event since its first year and have become famous for the giant inflatable colon seen each year at Sherry's Run. "Sherry's Run was the one day of the year that Don's entire staff and family came together to support the cause," remembered Cole's wife of 35 years, Susan Cole.
So when Cole was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in 2014, it came as a surprise to everyone. He had practiced what he had preached and had routine colonoscopies. But the type of cancer he had was a very rare and very aggressive form. In addition, Cole had a heart stint put in following a 2009 heart attack. He believed the anti-rejection meds in the stint might have played a part in accelerating the spread of his cancer.
"Don would want everyone to know that his situation does not change the importance of preventative care. He saw patients every year who were able to be treated and beat this disease because they had their routine colonoscopies," Susan said.
Cole was able to have some success with experimental chemo treatments. In fact, he had about four months of feeling better and was even able to see the birth of his first granddaughter.
Cole's legacy of service lives on through his family, co-workers and patients. He and Susan raised four sons who, along with their wives, rallied around their father throughout his illness to provide care and support. His daughter-in-law Casey is in nursing school at Cumberland University partly because of the encouragement she received from him.
Drs. Price, Miller and Inglis, who purchased Cole's practice, have continued to provide the same care to the community for which he and his practice were known. They also continue to honor his legacy through financial support for Sherry's Run.
"Dr. Cole will always be remembered as a major force in raising awareness about the importance of colon cancer screening in the Lebanon community. He created a leading GI practice and endoscopy center that our GI group feels very privileged to be a part of," Dr. Neil Price said.
Help honor Cole's legacy at the 13th annual Sherry's Run 5K Walk/Run on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 8 a.m. at 623 West Main Street in Lebanon. Registration is now open. Visit www.sherrysrun.org to sign up.
Community support helps Sherry's Run assist cancer patients 52 weeks a year with gas, groceries, utility bills, housing payments, prescription assistance, health insurance premiums, medical bills and colonoscopy assistance. To learn more, call (615) 925-2592. To refer someone who might qualify for assistance, call (615) 925-9932 or visit www.sherrysrun.org.