Nebraska hospital greeter helps fight cancer patients' despair

OMAHA, Neb. -- There are a lot of big, important jobs at the Methodist Hospital Estabrook Cancer Center in Omaha, Neb., and Jon McAlpin's isn't one of them.

Jon McAlpin CBS News
"They come to see the Ph.D.s upstairs, but they have to get past P.T. Barnum at the front door first," Jon says.

As the front door greeter, Jon is responsible for welcoming chemo patients and their families, while at the same time keeping out as much of their despair and hopelessness as possible.

"His attitude, it just lifts me up," one patient says.

"Makes you feel warm and good," says another.

"Just a really happy-go-lucky person," a third says of Jon.

Jon's so positive that patients sometimes wonder if he's on something. And actually, he is on something: the same chemo they are.

A few years ago, Jon was diagnosed with a rare form of intestinal cancer. He knew it would kill him eventually, so at first, he thought, "Why wait?"

As the front door greeter, Jon is responsible for welcoming chemo patients and their families. CBS News
"I was pretty despondent, I really was," Jon says. "And that was the night I planned my suicide."

Sawed-off shotgun, motel room -- he had it all planned out, until one day, his doctor convinced him that the end of your life doesn't have to be the end of the world. That you can still find purpose. And for Jon, this was it.

Now, five days a week, the 60-year-old retired firefighter comes to his new job at the hospital -- never misses a day, even on chemo.

"They've given me a purpose in life beyond anything I've ever known," Jon says. "I'm not a cancer victim anymore. And that's how I choose to live out the remainder of my days -- helping other people. I'm able to tell them, 'You can do this. Look at me, you can do this.'"

Which may just make his job at the hospital the most important one, after all.

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  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.