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Charlotte’s Story

The Charlotte Maxwell Clinic is named in honor of Charlotte Maxwell, who died of ovarian cancer in 1988.

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Charlotte Maxwell was born in Buffalo, NY on April 21, 1932.

She graduated from Mary Washington College in Virginia. Her first post college job was with the Virginia Welfare Department. She retuned to Buffalo as a social worker with the Catholic Charities, serving children in foster care and adolescents in group homes. Next, she completed a graduate program at the University of Buffalo and received a Master of Social Work degree.

At the time of her graduation, President Lyndon Johnson was unfolding his War on Poverty program. Along with the introduction of Medicaid and Medicare, the mid 1960’s reforms included a new outreach program by the Federal Bureau of Maternal and Child Health to reduce the nation’s premature birth rate.

Charlotte joined the Erie County Department of Health as a member of an interdisciplinary team of nurses, social workers and a gynecologist, nutritionist and health educator. The team brought pre-natal care to community sites, including a housing project and a school for pregnant teens. During this time, her volunteer efforts centered on welfare reform and fair housing issues.

In 1971, influenced by the emphasis public health personnel and social workers put on community organization, outreach and prevention, Charlotte moved to California to pursue a second graduate program, this time in public health. Once she earned her Master of Public Health degree from UC Berkeley, Charlotte became Service Director for the American Cancer Society in San Francisco, and later the Director of Community Unlimited, a new program for adult disabled persons living independently in group homes or with their families.

Charlotte possessed a zest and enthusiasm for life. She had strong ties with her family – a brother, sister, nieces and nephews – and with a network of friends and colleagues. She was a spiritual person whose faith guided her.

Many would recall Charlotte’s gift of humor, which brought them laughter and raised their spirits. Others would remember her as a good listener who somehow helped them view their problems and solutions in a new light. Still others would describe Charlotte as a forward thinker, able to envision better strategies for improving programs and services. It is fair to say all valued their time with her.

Charlotte received a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in the spring of 1987. She passed away at he age of 56 in Oakland, CA on December 6, 1988. She lived that year and a half with the same spirit and determination as she had throughout her life.

Having participated on many health care teams, Charlotte knew the value of team care. Facing cancer and unable to find a support group that met her needs, Charlotte put together her own health team, consisting of wonderful women practitioners who specialized in Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage, guided imagery, homeopathy and eventually hospice care. This team gave her loving support, visited her in the hospital, and when she could no longer travel, brought their services to her home.

This compassionate group of women who cared for Charlotte knew there were many underserved women with cancer who could benefit from integrative cancer care but would not have access to such treatments. Out of their experience, foresight and passionate belief in complementary integrative medicine the Charlotte Maxwell Clinic was born. To this day, the Clinic provides integrative cancer care, safety-net social services and health education to low-income women with cancer.

By Jean Morton, CMC Board Member Emeritus