Doctor Gordon (Gordy) Klatt

“The improvement in cancer death rates and incidence rates, thanks in no small part to Relay For Life over the past 27 years, has truly been a memorable experience. We are all a part of the success. Relay until cancer is dead!”
-Dr. Gordon Klatt

Early Life / Practice

Gordon Klatt graduated from the University of Saint Thomas in 1964 with a bachelors degree in Biology. He attended the University of Minnesota Medical School the following year, graduating in the top of his class in 1968. Next, he interned at the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center until 1969, claiming to have garnered great fulfillment from serving those who serve our country. Next, he completed his residency as an army surgeon at Madigan Army Medical Center for four years followed by the Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center. Klatt later went on to receive his fellowship from the University of Minnesota at Fairview and became a successful colon and rectal surgeon. He practiced colon and rectal surgery for twenty-one years at Mt. Rainier Surgical Associates in Tacoma, Washington. During his medical practice, Doctor Klatt realized his passion for aiding the fight against cancer in his specialized field. With the support of his loved ones, especially his wife Lou, he soon successfully opened his own practice in Tacoma, called K-Y Surgical Associates, as a colorectal oncologist in May 2000. Throughout his career in medicine, specifically as an oncologist, Doctor Gordon furthered his involvement in the fight against cancer by serving as a volunteer for the American Cancer Society since the early 1980’s. Through this involvement that Doctor Gordon changed - and saved - the lives of so many, and single-handedly altered the very future of cancer research.

external image acspc-033682.jpg

Challenge - Taking on Cancer: Transforming an Idea into Reality

At first unbeknownst to Doctor Klatt, what started as a mere idea would ultimately transform into a nationwide challenge against cancer. In 1985 in an effort to enhance the income of his local American Cancer Society office in the greater Seattle area, Klatt made the decision to take matters into his own hands with a rather lofty goal. Although he loved his profession as an oncologist, he felt that he could do more. He decided to personally raise money for the fight against cancer by doing one of his favorite hobbies - running. An avid runner, Klatt enjoyed running marathons throughout his youth and decided to combine his two passions for the greater good - running and fighting against cancer. In the early spring, Klatt spent 24 hours lapping the local track at Baker Stadium in Tacoma for over eighty-three miles. As the night went on, friends and family joined him and paid $25 to run or walk 30 minutes with him around the track. In a recent interview for The News Tribune reflecting on his experience, Klatt describes his efforts: “My first goal was to finish. For the first 18 hours, I ran one lap, walked one lap. The last six hours I walked – I couldn’t get my legs high enough to run. My father, Roy, was a big walker at the time and was in his late 60s. He walked 25 miles with me.” Klatt never expected the enormous surge of support that soon came about from this single night. What began as one man’s single run became a gathering of over 300 people, raising over $27,000 for the American Cancer Society. Overwhelmed by the success and support, Klatt’s experience gave birth to a new vision and a heightened goal of how he could transform this idea into something that would contribute to the common good of all. Klatt considered how more and more people could partake in similar 24-hour events in communities nationwide. Spearheading this vision, he recruited a small team of local supporters and colleagues and successfully launched the City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer in 1986. American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life was then born. Today, this event has spread across the country with almost 4 million people partaking in annual Relay events in over 5,000 communities in the U.S. Klatt’s mantra was “Cancer never sleeps,” so he made his vision of an all-night fundraising event into a reality to spread this message. What started as the idea of one man has not only raised cancer awareness but also brought in over $400 million a year for cancer research.

Natural Ill: From Doctor to Patient

In 2012, Doctor Klatt was sidelined by the very ill he worked so hard to fight. Klatt was diagnosed with stomach cancer in early March. While undergoing extensive treatment, Klatt was forced to give up his practice helping other cancer patients to fight his own battle against cancer. However, this personal challenge did not stop Klatt’s efforts with Relay for Life and his involvement with The American Cancer Society. That summer, amidst ongoing chemotherapy, Klatt participated in a Relay for Life event as a survivor for the first time. Klatt spoke at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Relay, inspiring fellow cancer patients, survivors, fellow doctors, and others nationwide as a living example of how the strength of will can conquer this disease. “It’s hard to put in words what it’s like when you’re touched with this disease,” Klatt said at the event. “It’s not necessarily a down-in-the-dumps feeling; it’s wanting to fight and struggle against this disease” (Pungent Sound Business Journal, 2012). Klatt spoke of how his own personal fight against this ill inspired him to work even harder for a cure, not for himself, but for all those who fight with him: “I am even more energized to defeat this disease worldwide. Celebrate the survivors; remember those who lost the battle and fight back!” (American Cancer Society). After months of treatment, Klatt’s condition improved and he returned to work part time time as a rectal surgeon, although temporarily delegated more complex colon surgeries to other physicians while he still fought the disease. Today, Doctor Klatt is fortunately in remission and has returned to his medical practice full time.

external image Gordy-Klatt-1.jpg


Doctor Klatt is the personification of both perseverance in the face of adversity. Klatt certainly exemplified perseverance in developing what began as a simple, far-fetched idea into the national success that Relay for Life is today. Currently, Relay for Life has grown to become the American Cancer Society’s most acclaimed event and the largest fundraising event in the world. This success would never have happened without the organizational and creative mind of Doctor Klatt. He persevered as a leader in his community, pioneering his own 24-hour marathon all on his own before ultimately becoming the leader and face of something bigger than himself. He persevered in rallying supporters to make his dream into a reality, seeing every detail through in organizing small community events to large national ceremonies. Later, he especially persevered in continuing his work with Relay despite his diagnosis, lending even more support to cancer victims.
Klatt also demonstrated profound perseverance in face of his own battle against cancer. Sidelined with stomach cancer, he did not let the fear of this tremendous disease or of an unknown future to keep his spirits down. Instead, this personal challenge spurred him to fight even more on the behalf of other victims, personifying the age-old saying “practice what you preach.” After his diagnosis and initial treatment before surgery, Klatt was quoted at a Relay event saying, “We all need to celebrate more birthdays and by relaying we keep the hope alive through education, community involvement and fundraising for ongoing research” (American Cancer Society). He went on to exhibit courage to overcome this ill with the help of his supporters: ““The response to my cancer battle has given me an overwhelming feeling of support. The fact that Relay For Life has reached so many people in all corners of the world is a great satisfaction to me. I have good doctors, caregivers, medicines and supporters everywhere. This cancer is in big trouble” (The News Tribune). Ultimately, Doctor Klatt’s courage helped him defeat his cancer while aiding and inspiring others along the way to do the same.

- __
- __ present__
- __
- __