Patient Stories

Colon Cancer Survivor, Survivorship Clinic Patient

Richard Van Hollebeke

At the prime age of 55, Richard Van Hollebeke, or Dick as he likes to be called, had colorectal cancer. The year was 1994. And after all this time, he’s definitely a survivor.

“I don’t have cancer in my family,” he says, “so it bowled me over when I got the diagnosis. I don’t know where it came from.”

Dick had surgery in December 1994 followed by radiation treatment and a year of chemotherapy. He has been learning to cope with the effects of his disease and treatment ever since.

“I should be thankful for every day of the life I have, and I am,” Dick says, “but life isn’t the same and it’s not going to be. My quality of life is diminished and the medical profession isn’t geared to help people in that way. They try to fix pain and disease, but not in a holistic way.”

In 2006 things started to improve for Dick. He saw a public service announcement on television about Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) and the Lance Armstrong Foundation working together to enhance cancer survivors’ lives. He made the phone call and got an appointment with the SCCA Survivorship Clinic that provides essential direct survivorship services to cancer survivors.

“This program is wonderful," Dick says. “The providers have helped me in many ways.”

In the process of removing cancer from the body, the treatments patients endure can often alter the body and the mind in a way that may never again return to normal. Surgery changes form and often times function of organs and muscles, especially with colorectal cancer patients, who then need to learn how to live normally in new ways. And, “any cancer survivor will worry about their cancer coming back. Any pain becomes an instant worry – is this cancer-related,” Dick says.

Physically, Dick was on a rollercoaster of over control and lack of control after his cancer surgery. Among other things, the providers with the Survivorship Clinic taught him that diet is very important to his day-to-day functioning. “They started me on an elimination diet to see what I could eat and couldn’t eat. First I tried white stuff… white rice, white bread, and had tremendous luck,” he says. 

Oddly enough, his good eating habits prior to having cancer have to be monitored and controlled. Nuts are generally out, except in very small quantities, and Dick has to be careful about how many fruits and vegetables he eats. “I do fall off the wagon from time to time because I love fruits and vegetables so much,” he says.

“Through SCCA, I felt I got, without exception, the most caring of people attending to me, not the sugar-coated, condescending kind. They look at me as a whole person and are taking care of my needs with a full spectrum of providers in their network,” Dick says, who in his regular primary care setting, feels like the Lone Ranger when it comes to getting the best medical care. He’s found the complete opposite at SCCA in the Survivorship Clinic.

“I’m definitely one of the lucky ones,” Dick says.