Perry Patterson smiles at his desk as he looks at the camera. Shelves on the walls hold cancer education literature.

From the fishbowl

The world of cancer comes with a lot of questions. Perry Patterson has the answers.

And if he doesn’t, he knows where to look.

Perry manages the Cancer Learning Center at Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute. He is a fixture of the Gibbs lobby, sitting at a desk surrounded by cancer literature in an office that many refer to as the “fishbowl,” because of its large windows that look out onto a main walkthrough, a café and a retail shop for cancer patients.

“I’m out in the middle of it all, and that’s where I want to be,” Perry said.

Perry’s mission at the Cancer Learning Center: To answer questions posed by patients, their family members and anyone else who needs to know.

“If I’ve learned anything about cancer, it’s a whole family situation,” Perry said. “Everybody is involved.”

Perry grew up here and attended Spartanburg Day School. He left the Upstate to earn his bachelors at the Virginia Military Institute. He also served in the Air Force for four years.

He earned his master’s degree at the University of South Carolina, where he met his wife, Denise, who was an assistant softball coach while working to earn her own master’s degree.

“The team was 15th in the nation in Division I the year she was with them,” Perry said.

Perry returned home to Spartanburg with his wife in the early 1990s. For several years, Perry ran an evening class program at Spartanburg Methodist College.

“I wanted to come back home and be part of my community,” Perry said.

When Patterson first started at Gibbs Cancer Center in 1999, he would spend many hours in Spartanburg Regional’s medical library. He would lug huge, 50-pound journals to a copier to print out information for physicians and patients alike.

Now, a virtual universe of medical databases and reliable, up-to-date information are a couple of keystrokes away.

Perry’s access to medical journals is invaluable to his role, but he also keeps a close eye on the main cancer websites. When those online resources update their pages, Perry familiarizes himself with the material.

“I’m always trying to keep my finger on the pulse of cancer care,” Perry said.

It’s a constant flow of data.

“You can’t say, ‘I’m going to take a month off and check back later,’” Perry said. “What I worry about most is not staying up to date.”

The technology may have changed, but Perry’s core work remains the same – helping others.

“How can we take the stress off the patient and family if they have questions?” Perry said.

It’s not just a personal mission, Perry said. Helping the patient, no matter what, is a part of the culture at Gibbs.

“I consider myself a public resource,” Perry said. “Anybody can come in here and ask for information.”

The Cancer Learning Center is a resource, but Perry stressed the importance of consulting your doctor with questions related to your personal health.

“I am not trying to play doctor or nurse, because I am not a doctor or nurse,” Perry said. “I don’t editorialize. I’m not qualified to.”

Have questions? Call Perry and the Cancer Learning Center at 864-560-6747 or email