For 3 decades, Kansas City philanthropist Annette Bloch advocated for cancer patients. Yet in all those years, she never dreamed she'd be one.
Her husband Richard - the R in H&R Block - was the cancer patient. In a story that is legend, he was given only 3 months to live when diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 1978. Instead, he lived another 25 years, beating cancer not once but twice.
Cancer care champions
During those years, the Blochs devoted their energies to helping other cancer patients educate themselves and learn about their options. Giving hope and encouragement, the couple motivated patients to take charge of their disease.
They penned 3 books on battling cancer, built more than 25 cancer survivor parks across North America and established the RA Bloch Cancer Foundation and toll-free cancer hotline. When Richard died of heart failure in 2004, Annette took on the challenge of continuing their work.
So when her routine mammogram in Breast Imaging at The University of Kansas Health System in 2008 led to a breast cancer diagnosis, the cancer care advocate of 3 decades admits she was blindsided.
This hospital is a special place and Kansas City is fortunate to have it. I have been all over the country advocating for cancer patients, and there is something special about the hospital's services, this facility and the people who work here. – Annette Bloch
Blindsided by diagnosis
"Honestly, it took me a little while to process the information," she confided. "I couldn't believe it" even though I'm at high risk. My sister died of breast cancer at 50, back when treatment options were very limited."
William Smith, MD, medical director of Breast Imaging, broke the news, explaining her tumor was very small, caught in the early stages. "I wasn't scared. I really wasn't," she said. "I knew I was in the right place to be treated. The quality of care and physicians here are just phenomenal."
On the Bloch Foundation website, a letter written years ago by Annette's husband offers this advice to newly diagnosed cancer patients: "There is a saying that it takes six things to beat cancer. First is the best possible medical treatment. Second is the best possible medical treatment. Third, fourth and fifth are the best possible medical treatment. Sixth is a positive mental attitude."
Best possible treatment
Annette didn't need to do her homework on where to find "the best possible medical treatment." A longtime friend of The University of Kansas Health System, she'd toured the outpatient cancer center before it opened in 2007 and was so impressed she'd contributed $1 million during one of the opening events.
Following her lumpectomy, Annette received a type of radiation treatment relatively new in the U.S. Instead of radiation 5 days a week for 6 or 7 weeks, she received intensive radiation twice a day for one week. In addition to Dr. Smith, with whom she's formed a fast friendship, she praises her surgeon, Carol Connor, MD, and oncologist, Carol Fabian, MD.
Special facility, special people
"You know, I could have gone anywhere, but I was so lucky to be able to come here," she said. "I've been all over the country advocating for cancer patients, and there is something special about this facility and the people who work here."
Later in 2008, she expressed her gratitude with a $20 million gift to cancer care for breast imaging, blood and marrow transplant and radiation oncology programs. In 2009, the Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Care Pavilion and the Richard and Annette Bloch Radiation Oncology Pavilion were named to recognize her generosity.
As for her post-cancer life, she's busy, busy, busy with cancer advocacy, family and friends. Trim and beaming, she still works out 5 days a week ̶ a habit she's followed for 35 years. And on Aug. 19, she celebrated her 2-year anniversary as a cancer survivor.