Radiation in Riverside: Susanna Gordon, M.D., wants to find ‘the truth in physics’

September 28, 2018 | by Robert Young

Susanna Gordon Susanna Gordon, M.D.
To say Susanna Gordon M.D., has an eclectic array of interests might be a bit of an understatement. She developed a deep interest in arts and science at a very young age, becoming a classically trained musician as well as an award-winning ballroom dancer. Gordon is also an avid horse breeder and rider who has received honors in prestigious competitions.
But her main passion, and life’s mission, is healing patients as a radiation oncologist at City of Hope’s Riverside Radiation Oncology location, part of a recently expanded network serving the Southern California area. 
Around the same time she became enamored of the arts, Gordon decided she wanted to become a nuclear physicist — a goal she has accomplished, in a sense. 
“The sciences have always interested me, especially physics,” said Gordon, assistant clinical professor of radiation oncology at City of Hope. “When I was 5 and in kindergarten, I told my parents that I was going to be a nuclear physicist. It came true, you see, because you could call me an applied physicist of sorts. Radiation oncology is a natural fit for me. I find it very appealing because physics does not lie. There is truth in physics.”

Science and soul

Balancing that immutable truth with the beauty and freedom of the arts comes naturally to Gordon, and both areas have been driving forces in her life as long as she can remember. When she was 4, she begged her parents for piano lessons, starting a journey that led to conservatory training and performing in symphony orchestras and musical theater. And she was born with an innate talent for dance.
“The arts have definitely been a large part of my life since childhood,” Gordon said. “Dancing always came naturally to me and is something that I enjoy. With regard to the ballroom dancing, I’ve won competitions as an amateur dancing in the Pro/Am division and had the incredible good fortune to train with a former national champion.” 
But Gordon’s main passion — second only to her work with City of Hope — is the equestrian arts. She’s an avid breeder of German Holsteiner horses and keeps four on her property in Redlands, California, riding and training them in Olympic equestrian disciplines of show jumping, eventing and dressage.
“I’m a dedicated amateur rider who has been fortunate to ride and consistently train with distinguished former officers of the U.S. Cavalry, former Olympians and senior riders of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna,” she said. “Classical dressage is a sport that takes a lifetime to learn, but I enjoy every step in the process of becoming one with the horse.”
She’s especially proud of her prized mare Polonaise, which received the highest distinction from the breeding judges of the Holsteiner Verband Breeding Assn. in Germany. “I have been an avid student of Holsteiner pedigrees and have bred horses solely for myself to ride. I'm a very small-time breeder. Nothing to write home about, but I am especially proud of that mare.” 

Healing the Inland Empire

Notwithstanding her artistic talents, Gordon knew that she wanted to dedicate her life to science, specifically medicine. Her dream came true when she earned her M.D. at UCLA, where she went on to complete a radiation oncology residency. Her journey was supported and inspired by several key mentors such as David Maxwell, a former Rhodes Scholar, and Robert Parker, a pioneer in the radiation oncology field. 
A diplomate of the American Board of Radiology, Gordon has accrued a wealth of experience, combining her work as a community physician with academic pursuits. She was a tenure-track professor at a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center and has enrolled patients in several high-profile clinical trials.   
“I have always been drawn to the rigors of academic medicine and feel at home in this environment,” she said.  
In 2012 Gordon joined City of Hope in South Pasadena, leaving St. Mary’s Health Center in Missouri, where she served as medical director in the radiation oncology department. Earlier in 2018, she moved to the Riverside center, close to her home, and horses, in Redlands.   
It was a perfect landing spot, a state-of-the-art radiation oncology center offering advanced treatments such as 3D ultrasound imaging, electron beam therapy, image-guided radiation therapy and more. Riverside is one of nine radiation oncology locations recently added to City of Hope’s clinical network.  
”City of Hope has had a long-standing reputation for excellence,” she said. “City of Hope's excellence can be seen not only in numerous successful clinical trials, but in the excellence of all staff who work there. This excellence is palpable and in evidence daily at City of Hope.”
Gordon leads a full life, to say the least, pursuing her passions with a clear and singular purpose. More than anything, you might say she’s a seeker of truth.  
“Physics has an inherent truth, which is not manipulated by feelings and emotion,” she said. “Music and dance are more abstract. Everyone finds their own truth.”  
If she had more time, she’d like to add yet another skill set to her repertoire. “In another life, I’d like to be a fighter pilot,” Gordon said. “But that's another life.” 
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