The staff at MEAD Alternative High School often welcomes students who are in crisis or going through difficult times – but Cassie Gordon’s situation was extreme.
“Cassie came to school straight from the hospital. She’d been hospitalized for an eating disorder,” said Carole Allen, her teacher. Gordon had been diagnosed with anorexia at 13 and the disease progressed to the point where her family feared for her life.
Adding to her distress was a change in schools. She’d previously thrived at St. George’s until family finances prohibited her return.
Unfortunately, her first day at MEAD coincided with a field trip that included a stop at McDonald’s.
Allen had told the students about Gordon’s health issues, so they weren’t surprised when the van pulled up at the restaurant, and Gordon sat silently as they started to climb out. “The kids said, ‘Come in with us, you don’t have to eat anything,’ ” Allen recalled. “Cassie smiled and flew out of the van.”
Gordon has no qualms about discussing her eating disorder. “In my group of friends, I was always the heavier one,” she said. So she began dieting and the more weight she lost, the more positive attention she received from her peers.
“I felt so accomplished when I lost weight,” she said. “Everyone was like, ‘Oh! You look so good! How are you losing weight?’ But at some point you get to the place where there’s no more weight to lose – then it becomes a problem.”
A problem with life-threatening consequences. During her freshman year Gordon fainted. “I hadn’t eaten for six days,” she admitted. She was hospitalized for eight days, and then went to a residential treatment program in Edmonds, Washington.
“I don’t know if I’d be alive today, if it weren’t for my dad,” Gordon said. “He’s been there for me every step of the way.”
Through it all, she persevered with her schoolwork. “The teachers at St. George’s sent my finals to me and a yearbook that everyone had signed.”
When Gordon returned she started school at MEAD. “Everyone is nervous when they first go to a new school,” she said. “I told my core group that I had anorexia. I was expecting to be judged because that had been my experience. But they treated me like everyone else. It was such a relief.”
That acceptance allowed her to blossom in all kinds of ways. As part of the leadership team, she organized a blood drive at the school with another student. “Before MEAD, if you put me in front of a crowd and expected me to say something, I’d burst into tears and run away. MEAD has really built my self-confidence.”
Teachers describe her as brilliant, motivated, a mentor to many, delightful and articulate.
“This is a girl who won’t give up,” Allen said. “She’s just a fighter – a resilient survivor. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s a beautiful girl.”
Gordon plans to enroll at SFCC in the fall and hopes to become a nurse.
“There was a time when I felt hopeless,” she said. “But now I know I have a future beyond anorexia.”