Name: Dawn Doherty
Occupation: Education coordinator at Mayo Clinic
Where we found her: Silent auction
Are you originally from Rochester? I am. Born and raised and graduated from John Marshall—go Rockets! Though my son is 13 and will likely be going to Lourdes, so that’s my allegiance now!
How long have you worked at Mayo Clinic? Thirty-six years, but I’ve had this position for 17 years.
What was your first Mayo job? I started at 16 in the kitchen at St. Marys with Sister Generose. I worked with a bunch of the sisters, but she was my favorite.
Why? She scared me, but she taught me so much. There were 30 to 40 nuns who lived at St. Marys then, and we fed them three meals a day. Sister Generose was very frugal. I remember setting out those little boxes of cereal on the table and she said, “How come there are 15 boxes of cereal? We took a vow of poverty! We only need three boxes of cereal!”
She was—and remains—an iconic part of Mayo Clinic. A lot of people know about her famous jelly. She used to come in at night when we were closing up the kitchen, and she would make jelly all night. She was always the first up in the morning and the last one to bed. She had so much energy. If she wasn’t working at St. Marys, she was gardening and hauling [her produce] back in and cleaning her berries, or on her feet stirring this jelly. The whole time I knew Sister Generose, I only saw her in two outfits. One was the habit she wore and the other was farm clothes—brown trousers and a cream-colored blouse and this big, floppy hat. She was a pretty amazing lady. She taught me a lot of the core values of Mayo. I remember walking down the hall with her and there was trash on the floor. She said, “If you’re walking on this hall, whether that trash is yours or not, we pick it up because we want it to be nice for patients.”
Tell me about a challenge you’ve faced? I’ve had a really crazy five years. I’ve had cancer, my husband died in 2016…
I’m so sorry to hear that. I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in June 2015. I was told that if you have to have cancer, this is a good kind to have. We did a full hysterectomy, and in 95% of women, everything is fine after that. But six months later, it was back. So it puts you in a whole different category—the grim category. They were saying “two to five years.” But I’m at five years, and I’m doing super well. I still have cancer, but it’s stabilized. I’m on an experimental drug, and it’s helping.
How are you doing mentally? I’ve kind of been all over the place in these five years. I went through chemo for a second time in 2019, and it was really tough. I was so sick; I ended up being hospitalized every time I had chemo. There were times I thought, “I can’t do this anymore.” It was hard to get out of bed. I’d feel down because I’d start thinking about what I wish I could do … but then I’d reformulate the plan and think, “This is what I can do today. This is what my body can handle today.” I was a single mom to a 12 year old, and I took one day at a time. So our adventures looked different last year, but we still did them.
Adventures? My son, Noah, and I have done a new adventure every month for about the last three years. We’ve gone paddle boarding, we’ve tried different ethnic restaurants, we went ice fishing for the first time, he went on a motorcycle ride, we’ve traveled to Nashville, to New Orleans, to Mississippi. We find new things.
Next adventure? We want to go on a trip, but where to during COVID? We had slated a cruise for this year, but I’m not getting on a cruise ship! We’ll probably go to Bluefin Bay up in northern Minnesota.
Favorite musician? Probably Blake Shelton right now. But if we’re talking old school, my favorite musician growing up was John Mellencamp.
Best concert? Probably Bon Jovi, when they came to Rochester. That was huge. It was my first concert, so it was a big thing for me. My friends and I teased our hair super big and had these boots with cutouts and tassels. It was either that or—you’re going to laugh—MC Hammer. He was up in the Cities, and he was amazing.
What do you remember about the first time you saw your son? We adopted him and got to be in the delivery room. We watched the birth, my husband cut the cord, and it was just amazing. Amazing.
What a moment. Probably the best thing in my life is my son. We brought him home from the hospital right here in Rochester after 9 years of fertility issues, and going through the foster system, and then connecting with his birth mother.
How did you find each other? We put the word out to everybody we knew—and a friend of a friend called us. She said, “My niece is pregnant, she doesn’t feel she can keep the baby, and she wants to form a birth plan. Would you like to meet her?” Um, yeah! Two weeks after we met her, she chose us.
Best advice? It’s a phrase from a remake of Cinderella: “Have courage and be kind.”